Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Gulf Bacteria Gobble Deepwater Oil Spill

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Gulf Bacteria Gobble Deepwater Oil Spill

Article excerpt

Researchers from the University of Rochester and Texas A&M University have found that, over five months following the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, naturally occurring bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico consumed at least 200,000 tons of oil and natural gas that spewed undersea from the ruptured wellhead.

"A significant amount of the oil and gas that was released was retained within the ocean water more than one-half mile below the sea surface," said researcher John Kessler of the University of Rochester. "The hydrocarbon-eating bacteria did a good job of removing the majority of the material that was retained in these layers."

The results, published in Environmental Science and Technology, include the first measurements of how the rate at which the bacteria ate the oil and gas changed as the disaster progressed, information that is fundamental to understanding this spill and predicting the behavior of future spills.

Kessler noted: "Interestingly, the oil and gas consumption rate was correlated with the addition of dispersants at the wellhead. Our results suggest it made the released hydrocarbons more available to the native Gulf of Mexico microorganisms. "

Their measurements show that the consumption of the oil and gas by bacteria in the deep Gulf had stopped by September 2010, five months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. "It is unclear if this indicates that this great feast was over by this time or if the microorganisms were simply taking a break before they start on dessert and coffee," Kessler said. …

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