GALVESTON — Microbes that were expected to consume thousands of tons of methane gas released into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill instead slowed down and left much of the deadly gas in the water, according to researchers, including one from Texas A&M University at Galveston.

The findings pose questions about whether the methane gas — a greenhouse gas that can contribute to climate change — could find its way from the water into the air.

“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, the senior author of the paper and a marine science professor at the University of Georgia.

Researchers compared the levels of methane gas in the water in samples before and after the oil spill, which spewed an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico 41 miles off the Louisiana coast in July 2010.

Scientists believed that microbes, called methatrophs, in the Gulf waters essentially would eat the massive amounts of methane gas that leaked into the water from the Deepwater Horizon’s wellhead. The microbes break down methane — a chemical compound composed of carbon and hydrogen — and use the carbon as an energy source.

The tests showed that the number of microbes grew dramatically in the two months after the spill, consuming large amounts of the methane. But then the bacteria levels plummeted, leaving about half the methane gas in the water.

Researchers believe that the large of amount of gas and a lack of essential nutrients in the water kept the bacteria from gobbling up all the methane.

“It shows the sudden drop in bacteria consuming the gas was not due to an absence of methane, but a host of biological, environmental and physical constraints that made it difficult for bacteria to consume the methane rapidly,” said Rainer Amon, an associate professor of marine sciences and oceanography at Texas A&M University at Galveston.

“There were still considerable amounts of methane in the water column.”

Methane is the second most common greenhouse gas emitted in the United States behind carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Methane accounts for 9 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, but also comes from natural processes in wetlands and livestock.

Scientists now need more information about what factors keep the microbes from consuming all the natural gas in the water, according to the research team.

Doing so will give a better understanding of where such gas will end up during future oil spills, they said.

(8) comments

Don Ciaccio

Man made Climate Change (formally Global Warming until the earth started cooling) the largest fraud ever perpetrated on the American people.

Carlos Ponce

But Man-Made Climate Change EXISTS! - The rest of us call it air-conditioning![beam]

George Croix

Much as I love A&M, this sounds like much more about research money than about harm.
The Gulf leaks more NATURALLY each year than the Deepwater Horizin spill put out.
Maybe research how to stop that....and every other location of natural seepage on the globe...
In the meantime, where's Al Gore on the 'climate change' issue?
Seems like 100 million al Jazeera Middle East oil dollars cured it for him... [beam][beam][beam][beam][beam][beam][beam]

Dorothy Holt

The Buzzard is going to sue the microbes. Get 'em, Buz.

Andy Aycoth

Methane and Naural gas are a gas.They are both lighter than water . What is there to remove ?
Since when did farts (methane) become deadly ?

Kevin Lang

Carbon Dioxide is lighter than water, too. So, how come those bubbles keep coming up from the bottom of my glass long after I've poured my Coke or Beer into it?

At low percentages, Carbon Dioxide causes no problems. However, if you happen to be stuck breathing large concentrations of it for a significant amount of time, it, too, will kill you. Heck, at sea level, our air is perfectly fine to breathe. However, if you spend much time more than about 100 feet down, it essentially becomes poisonous. Imagine that. Just about anything can be hazardous in a large enough concentration under the right circumstances.

Don Ciaccio

I agree totally Gecroix. Research $$$$ is what's fueling the whole Clinate Change lie.

George Croix

The absolute most toxic, deadly thing there is, the thing that results in a 100% mortality rate if exposed to it long enough...is life, itself...
No need to study that.

Since the Deepwater Horizon spill could only be estimated, and therefore the concentration/quanitity of gas released also was an estimate, then applying a known amount of remediation 'bugs' to the unknown quantity of material to be remediated would result at best in an estimate of the success of their consumption, would it not?
Of course, additional releases, naturally, could be expected to have a negative effect on the ability of a finite number of hungry microbes to do their imnitially assigned task, could they not?
If these two things are correct, then the whole thing amounts to a definite 'maybe'.
Better than nothing, certainly, but a less than perfect ending is hardly cause for ramped up alarm, is it?
Perhaps some day we'll hear how the same sciences predicting 'global cooling' to the point of a mini-ice age some 4 decades ago could now be predicting we'll all heat up and roast or starve from failure of crops or drown in rising seas.
And do so while ignoring their own data showing the last 15 plus years of essentially static global temps even as CO2 concentrations have increased, something obviosusly inconvenient to ponder.
Until then, I wish they'd pull on their own legs for a while, and stop yanking on mine...
Or, do like Al Gore, and sell their absolute convictions about 'global warming' or whatever the term-du-jour is to the highest bidder, which just happened to pay him with Middle Eastern oil money, such from countries that forgo environmental laws/standards, and cheerfully belch all the greenhouse gasses they can.
Research money would be well spent figuring out how to eliminate hypocrasy, and the 'climate-of-hysterical-fear, rather than baking more data fudge...

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