Researchers from the University of Rochester and Texas A&M University have found that, over a period of five months following the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, naturally-occurring bacteria that exist in the Gulf of Mexico consumed and removed at least 200,000 tons of oil and natural gas that spewed into the deep Gulf from the ruptured well head.
The researchers analyzed an extensive data set to determine not only how much oil and gas was eaten by bacteria, but also how the characteristics of this feast changed with time.
"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. It appears that the hydrocarbon-eating bacteria did a good job of removing the majority of the material that was retained in these layers," said co-author John Kessler <http://www.ees.rochester.edu/people/faculty/kessler_john/index.html> of the University of Rochester.
The results published this week in Environmental Science and Technology <http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es301363k> include the first measurements of how the rate at which the bacteria ate the oil and gas changed as this disaster progressed, information that is fundamental to understanding both 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. While there is still much to learn about the appropriateness of using dispersants in a natural ecosystem, 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 Gu
|Contact: Leonor Sierra|
University of Rochester