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A Persistent Oxygen Anomaly Reveals the Fate of Spilled Methane in the Deep Gulf of Mexico

Science  21 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6015, pp. 312-315
DOI: 10.1126/science.1199697

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Abstract

Methane was the most abundant hydrocarbon released during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond relevancy to this anthropogenic event, this methane release simulates a rapid and relatively short-term natural release from hydrates into deep water. Based on methane and oxygen distributions measured at 207 stations throughout the affected region, we find that within ~120 days from the onset of release ~3.0 × 1010 to 3.9 × 1010 moles of oxygen were respired, primarily by methanotrophs, and left behind a residual microbial community containing methanotrophic bacteria. We suggest that a vigorous deepwater bacterial bloom respired nearly all the released methane within this time, and that by analogy, large-scale releases of methane from hydrate in the deep ocean are likely to be met by a similarly rapid methanotrophic response.

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