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Science paper argues against conclusion that bacteria consumed Deepwater Horizon methane
Date:5/26/2011

he seafloor. The researchers point out that given the uncertainty in oxygen and methane budgets, strong supporting evidence is required to attribute oxygen depletion to methane removal; however, a study published in the October 8, 2010 edition of Science showed low measured rates of methane consumption by bacteria. Joye and her co-authors note that samples from the control stations and the low-oxygen stations that were analyzed for unique genetic markers in the January 2011 study showed no significant difference in the abundance of methane consuming bacteria. Joye and her colleagues also argue that the model the study used neglected important factors that affect the transport and biodegradation of methane, and that it only provided a tentative match of the observational data.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and understanding the fate of the methane released from the Deepwater Horizon well has implications for the entire planet, since global warming is likely to accelerate the release of methane that is currently trapped in hydrates on the seafloor. Based on the conclusion that bacteria had rapidly consumed the methane released from the Deepwater Horizon well, the January 2011 Science paper suggested that methane released from the oceans may not be likely to amplify an already warming climate.

Joye and her colleagues note that several other studies have found that considerable amounts of methane released from natural deep-sea vents are not consumed by microbes. The most vulnerable store of methane hydrates is not in the Gulf of Mexico, they also point out, but in the deposits that underlie the shallow waters of the Arctic.

"A range of data exists that shows a significant release of methane seeping out at the seafloor to the atmosphere, indicating that the microbial biofilter is not as effective," Joye said. "Importantly for the future of the planet, there is even less evidence for a strong biofilter of methane hydrate dest
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Contact: Pat Dunleavy
dunleavy@uga.edu
University of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert

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