Feeds

'Methanotroph' bacteria feasted on blown BP rig's methane belch

Deepwater Horizon upsets climate-change assumptions

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Scientists believe they have solved the mystery over what happened to the hundreds of thousands of tons of methane that belched into the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion last April.

According to a study published in Science Xpress, the gas served as a feast for methanotrophs: bacteria able to use natural gas as food.

A team of US researchers found that the level of dissolved oxygen in a 36,000-square-mile are surrounding the rig had plummeted, a tell-tale sign of a boom in the methanotroph population. They made measurements that ruled out the possibility that the escaped methane had simply bubbled into the atmosphere.

"What we observed in June was a horizon of deep water laden with methane and other hydrocarbon gases," said UC Santa Barbara oceanographer David Valentine.

"When we returned in September and October and tracked these waters, we found the gases were gone. In their place were residual methane-eating bacteria, and a one million ton deficit in dissolved oxygen that we attribute to respiration of methane by these bacteria."

The scientists were particularly surprised at the speed with which the bacteria consumed their enormous meal. Earlier studies elsewhere in the world suggested methane levels around Deepwater Horizon would be well above normal for years ahead.

Valentine's co-author, John Kessler of Texas A&M, said the study has major implications for our understanding of how methane releases affect the climate. There are vast stores of the powerful greenhouse gas trapped on the sea floor, and it had been supposed that occasional large releases have a significant impact on global temperatures.

"What the Deepwater Horizon incident has taught us is that releases of methane with similar characteristics will not have the capacity to influence climate," Kessler said.

The question of what happened to the more than four million barrels of crude oil spilled after the blow out, which also dissipated sooner than expected, remains under debate. Factors including high winds, natural breakdown, evaporation and the clean-up operation have all been suggested. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.