Microbes regulate the cycling of elements throughout the global ocean, from the icy surface waters that circulate at high latitudes, to the deep vents that dot the continental sea floor. Human activities are starting to modify the way in which microbes mediate these cycles, at least in the relatively well-characterized waters of the upper ocean. The deeper layers of the ocean are probably less affected, at least at present, and are definitely less well explored. However, technological advances are starting to shed light on the cycling of elements at depth, revealing microbial systems that are quite different from those at the surface. In this Nature Geoscience Insight we highlight some of the most intriguing advances in the microbial biogeochemistry of the oceans, a field that is very much in flux.

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