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Archive for Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Microbes reduce Gulf oil plume

August 25, 2010

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The Gulf of Mexico ecosystem was ready and waiting for something like the Deepwater Horizon blowout, and seems to have made the most of it, a new scientific study suggests.

Petroleum-eating bacteria — which had dined for eons on oil seeping naturally through the sea floor — proliferated in the cloud of oil that drifted underwater for months after the April 20 accident. They not only outcompeted fellow microbes, they each ramped up their own internal metabolic machinery to digest the oil as efficiently as possible.

The result was a nature-made cleanup crew capable of reducing the amount of oil in the undersea “plume” by half about every three days, according to research published online Tuesday by the journal Science.

The findings, by a team of scientists led by Terry C. Hazen of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in California, help explain one of the biggest mysteries of the disaster — where has all the oil gone?

“What we know about the degradation rates fits with what we are seeing in the last three weeks,” Hazen said. “We’ve gone out to the sites and we don’t find any oil but we do find the bacteria.”

The findings point to a different conclusion from that drawn by many readers of a study published last week, also in the journal Science. That research, by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, found no reduction in the oxygen content of the gigantic oil plume, suggesting that microbes were consuming the oil very slowly.

The study published Tuesday also suggests indirectly that dispersants used to break the wellhead stream of oil into a mass of sub-microscopic particles may have speeded the cleanup. By increasing the surface area between oil and water, the dispersants seem to have provided the deep-sea microbes greater access to this unusual food source.

Some of the spill’s 206 million gallons of oil has come ashore, some has sunk into bottom sediments, and a little is still a floating froth. But the mile-wide, 650-foot high cloud of oil that drifted for months 4,000 feet below the surface underwater seems to have disappeared in the six weeks since the well was plugged.

One thing that many scientists feared — severe depletion of oxygen as microbes consumed the oil — apparently hasn’t happened. The Woods Hole study published last week found no decrease in oxygen in the oil plume, and the new study found only a slight one.

“Both of our papers suggest it is unlikely that the microbes would draw down oxygen to such a degree that it would affect fisheries and create dead zones,” said Richard Camilli, the Woods Hole researcher.

The research team is continuing to collect deepwater samples. It could still find an oil plume two weeks after the well was plugged. No plume could be found in the last three weeks, however. The oil that remains appears to be too diluted out to be detected.

Comments

mr_right_wing 4 years, 5 months ago

Lies!! Fraud!! All lies!! (I can't stand the guilt anymore.)

This earth is completely incapible of repairing itself.

This planet would be as barren as the moon if it weren't for us, incredible, all powerful and all knowing humans!

I'm willing to come forth and confess that this is a right-wing coverup! You probably already correctly guessed it; the mastermind George (as with everything else) is behind this. Never underestimate the George my friends...you car wouldn't start this morning? George did it. You spilled some coffee at work this morning? It's not your fault...George did it. Your kids misbehaved today? Don't blame them...you guessed it again; George did it.

Wow...I feel better...confession really is good for the soul.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 5 months ago

Let's hope that the plume really is gone. But even if it is, that doesn't mean that this wasn't an ecological disaster, or that there isn't ongoing damage being done that'll take years or decades to assess.

gr 4 years, 5 months ago

Even if it is really gone, there may be "ongoing damage 'being' done".

You crack me up!

Maybe you should take another approach:

Alien oil microbes ate up the oil and next they will enter the underground oil reservoirs and deplete the whole earth's oil and we will be without power. And it's all our fault. Or at least George's fault. It's time to increase taxes!

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