Report

Propane Respiration Jump-Starts Microbial Response to a Deep Oil Spill

Science  08 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6001, pp. 208-211
DOI: 10.1126/science.1196830

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Abstract

The Deepwater Horizon event resulted in suspension of oil in the Gulf of Mexico water column because the leakage occurred at great depth. The distribution and fate of other abundant hydrocarbon constituents, such as natural gases, are also important in determining the impact of the leakage but are not yet well understood. From 11 to 21 June 2010, we investigated dissolved hydrocarbon gases at depth using chemical and isotopic surveys and on-site biodegradation studies. Propane and ethane were the primary drivers of microbial respiration, accounting for up to 70% of the observed oxygen depletion in fresh plumes. Propane and ethane trapped in the deep water may therefore promote rapid hydrocarbon respiration by low-diversity bacterial blooms, priming bacterial populations for degradation of other hydrocarbons in the aging plume.

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