Gulf Oil Plume Gone, Eaten By Newly Discovered Microbes


Analysis by Berkeley Lab revealed the dominant microbe in the dispersed Gulf of Mexico oil plume was a new species, closely related to members of Oceanospirillalesfamily. Image: Terry Hazen via Science Daily.

In what seems a deus ex machina or perhaps deus ex gaia moment, scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report that the miles-long deep sea oil plume which resulted from the BP oil spill has essentially vanished, apparently eaten by microbes previously unknown to science. Terry Hazen, a microbiologist at LBL, told the The New York Times, "For at least three weeks, we haven't been able to detect the deepwater plume at all."

As for the cause of this, new research published in Science and of which Hazen was the lead author shows that the massive influx of oil stimulated the growth these newly discovered microbes, which are closely related to know oil-degrading microbes.

Living under great pressure at depths where the water temperature is 5°C and where there is normally little carbon present, the oil gushing from the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon boosted those carbon levels allowing these new microbes to flourish.

The scientists suspect that frequent episodic (and obviously much smaller) natural oil seeps in the Gulf seabed may have led to adaptations in the deep-sea microbial community over long periods of time that speed up hydrocarbon degradation rates.

Furthermore, Hazen and colleagues say that the composition of Gulf light crude making it biodegrade more quickly that other oil, as well as the use of dispersants, contributed to the more rapid biodegradation of the oil plume.

This new research also reveals that in consuming the oil these deep-sea microbes did not contribute to worsening marine dead zones--areas with abnormally low oxygen levels--something which was feared would occur. LBL measurements show that oxygen saturation outside the oil plume was 67%, while within the plume it was 59%.

Read more: Deep-Sea Oil Plume Enriches Oil-Degrading Bacteria
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More on the Gulf Oil Spill:
BP Gulf Oil Spill's Impact on Tourism Estimated at 3 Years, Nearly $23 Billion
The 7 Stupidest Statements Made About the Gulf Oil Spill
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Tags: Blue August | Gulf Oil Spill | Oil | Oil Spill | Pollution

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