Athens, Ga. A technical comment published in the current (May 27) edition of the journal Science casts doubt on a widely publicized study that concluded that a bacterial bloom in the Gulf of Mexico consumed the methane discharged from the Deepwater Horizon well.
The debate has implications for the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem as well as for predictions of the effect of global warming, said marine scientist and lead author Samantha Joye, University of Georgia Athletic Association Professor in Arts and Sciences.
Based on methane and oxygen distributions measured at 207 stations in the Gulf of Mexico, a study published in the January 21, 2011 edition of Science concluded that "nearly all" of the methane released from the well was consumed in the water column within approximately 120 days of the release. In the current paper in Science, Joye and co-authors from 12 other institutions make the case that uncertainties in the hydrocarbon discharge from the blowout, oxygen depletion fueled by processes other than methane consumption, a problematic interpretation of genetic data and shortcomings of the model used by the authors of the January study challenge the attribution of low oxygen zones to the oxidation of methane gas.
"Our goal is to understand what happened to the methane released from the Macondo discharge and in the larger framework, to better understand the factors that regulate microbial methane consumption following large-scale gas releases," said Joye, a professor in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "I believe there is still a lot to learn about the environmental factors that regulate methane consumption in the Gulf's waters and elsewhere."
Joye and her co-authors note that low levels of oxygen are known to occur in the Gulf of Mexico because of bacterial consumption of carbon inputs from the Mississippi River as well as the bacterial consumption of hydrocarbons that naturally seep from t
|Contact: Pat Dunleavy|
University of Georgia