Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UGA research examines fate of methane following the Deepwater Horizon spill

12.05.2014

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout discharged roughly five million gallons of oil and up to 500,000 tons of natural gas into Gulf of Mexico offshore waters over a period of 84 days.

In the face of a seemingly insurmountable cleanup effort, many were relieved by reports following the disaster that naturally-occurring microbes had consumed much of the gas and oil.


Samantha Joye, a professor of marine sciences in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, studies the oil plumes generated by the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

Credit: Todd Dickey, UGA

Now, a team of researchers led by University of Georgia marine scientists have published a paper in the journal Nature Geoscience that questions this conclusion and provides evidence that microbes may not be capable of removing contaminants as quickly and easily as once thought.

"Most of the gas injected into the Gulf was methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change, so we were naturally concerned that this potent greenhouse gas could escape into the atmosphere," said Samantha Joye, senior author of the paper, director of the study and professor of marine science in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "Many assumed that methane-oxidizing microbes would simply consume the methane efficiently, but our data suggests that this isn't what happened."

Joye and colleagues from other universities and government organizations measured methane concentrations and the activity of methane-consuming bacteria for ten months, starting before the blowout with collection of an invaluable set of pre-discharge samples taken in March 2010.

The abundance of methane in the water allowed the bacteria that feed on the gas to flourish in the first two months immediately following the blowout, but their activity levels dropped abruptly despite the fact that methane was still being released from the wellhead.

This new data suggests the sudden drop in bacterial activity was not due to an absence of methane, but a host of environmental, physiological, and physical constraints that made it difficult or impossible for bacteria to consume methane effectively.

"For these bacteria to work efficiently, they need unlimited access to nutrients like inorganic nitrogen and trace metals, but they also need elevated methane levels to persist long enough to support high rates of consumption," Joye said. "The bacteria in the Gulf were probably able to consume about half of the methane released, but we hypothesize that an absence of essential nutrients and the dispersal of gas throughout the water column prevented complete consumption of the discharged methane."

Joye insists that while her group's conclusions differ from those presented in previous studies, there is no serious conflict between their analyses.

"The issue here was short-term sampling versus long-term time series sampling," she said. "I hope our paper clearly relays the message that long-term sampling is the only way to capture the evolution of a natural system as it responds to large perturbations like oil well blowouts or any other abrupt methane release."

Ultimately, scientists need to better understand the behavior of these microbes so that they may better gauge the environmental impacts of future accidents and methane releases due to climate change, she said.

"It's only a matter of time before we face another serious incident like Deepwater Horizon," Joye said. "The key is understanding the things that regulate how fast bacteria can consume methane, and that will give us insight into the ultimate fate of this potent greenhouse gas in our oceans."

###

Other authors on the paper include M. Crespo Medina, C.D. Meile, K.S. Hunter and J.J. Battles, University of Georgia; A-R. Diercks, V. L. Asper, A.M. Shiller and D-J. Joung, University of Southern Mississippi; V. J. Orphan and P. L. Tavormina, California Institute of Technology; L. M. Nigro, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; J.P. Chanton, Florida State University; R.M.W. Amon, Texas A&M University; A. Bracco and J.P. Montoya, Georgia Institute of Technology; T.A. Villareal, The University of Texas, Austin; A.M. Wood, NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

Support for this study includes funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.

The full article is available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2156.

Samantha Joye | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://www.uga.edu

Further reports about: Arts Crespo Horizon Mexico Orphan activity atmosphere escape greenhouse long-term microbes

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

IHP presents the fastest silicon-based transistor in the world

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

InLight study: insights into chemical processes using light

05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

High-precision magnetic field sensing

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>