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Gulf of Mexico topography played key role in bacterial consumption of Deepwater Horizon spill
Date:1/9/2012

When scientist David Valentine and colleagues published results of a study in early 2011 reporting that bacterial blooms had consumed almost all the deepwater methane plumes after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill, some were skeptical.

How, they asked the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) geochemist, could almost all the gas emitted disappear?

In new results published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Valentine; Igor Mezic, a mechanical engineer at UCSB; and coauthors report that they used an innovative computer model to demonstrate the respective roles of underwater topography, currents and bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico.

This confluence led to the disappearance of methane and other chemicals that spewed from the well after it erupted on April 20, 2010.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the research.

"As scientists continue to peel apart the layers of the Deepwater Horizon microbial story," said Don Rice, director of NSF's chemical oceanography program, "we're learning a great deal about how the ocean's biogeochemical system interacts with petroleum--every day, everywhere, twenty-four/seven. "

The results are an extension of a 2011 study, also funded by NSF, in which Valentine and other researchers explained the role of bacteria in consuming more than 200,000 metric tons of dissolved methane.

"It seemed that we were putting together a lot of pieces," Valentine said. "We would go out, take some samples, and study what was happening in those samples, both during and after the spill.

"There was a transition of the microorganisms and a transition of the biodegradation, and it became clear that we needed to incorporate the movement of the water."

The scientists believed that there was an important component of the physics of the water motion--of where the water went.

Valen
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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