(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Calling the results "extremely surprising," researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara and Texas A&M University report that methane gas concentrations in the Gulf of Mexico have returned to near normal levels only months after a massive release occurred following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.
Findings from the research study, led by oceanographers John Kessler of Texas A&M and David Valentine of UCSB, were published today in Science Xpress, in advance of their publication in the journal Science. The findings show that Mother Nature quickly saw to the removal of more than 200,000 metric tons of dissolved methane through the action of bacteria blooms that completely consumed the immense gas plumes the team had identified in mid-June. At that time, the team reported finding methane gas in amounts 100,000 times above normal levels. But, about 120 days after the initial spill, they could find only normal concentrations of methane and clear evidence of complete methane respiration.
"What we observed in June was a horizon of deep water laden with methane and other hydrocarbon gases," Valentine said. "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 1 million ton deficit in dissolved oxygen that we attribute to respiration of methane by these bacteria."
Kessler added: "Based on our measurements from earlier in the summer and previous other measurements of methane respiration rates around the world, it appeared that (Deepwater Horizon) methane would be present in the Gulf for years to come. Instead, the methane respiration rates increased to levels higher than have ever been recorded, ultimately consuming it and prohibiting its release to the atmosphere."
While the scientists' research documents the changing conditions of the Gulf waters, it also sheds some light on how
|Contact: George Foulsham|
University of California - Santa Barbara