Methane Overload for Marine Microbes

Latest analysis of microbial activities in the Gulf of Mexico suggests that gas-rich deepwater plumes following the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout may have overwhelmed methane-oxidizing bacterial species.

By | May 12, 2014

WIKIMEDIA; U.S. COAST GUARD, BARRY BENAMarine microbes in the Gulf of Mexico were periodically less able to oxidize the large stores of methane released as a result of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout, a team of US scientists has found. Coastal biogeochemist Samantha Joye from the University of Georgia and her colleagues found than in May and early June 2010, rates of microbial methane oxidation were high. But in late June, there was a steep drop in the activity of methane-oxidizing bacteria in the Gulf, even though there was still plenty of methane in the water. Their work was published in Nature Geoscience this weekend (May 11).

While gas-rich deepwater plumes—deposits of petroleum that were released from the oil rig following the blowout—were a short-lived feature of the spill’s aftermath, Joye’s team noted that the overall concentrations of methane remained high throughout the rest of year, possibly overloading the marine microbes that consume the compound. “We saw a boom and bust,” Joye told Nature News.

The results of this latest analysis challenge those of studies published in 2011 and 2012, which suggested that methane-gobbling microbes had oxidized nearly all the methane released as a result of the spill. “I don’t think the researchers misinterpreted their data,” Joye said. “It’s just that they had an incomplete data set. Our paper underscores the absolute necessity of making long-term measurements.”

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