Bacteria Ate Methane in Gulf at Near-Impossible Rate

Gas from spill consumed in less than 4 months, according to study
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 7, 2011 8:19 AM CST
In this Monday, June 7, 2010 photo, patches of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill are seen from an underwater vantage, in the Gulf of Mexico south of Venice, La..   (AP Photo/Rich Matthews)

(Newser) – Bacteria appears to have broken down all the methane that spilled out of the Deepwater Horizon well in less than four months—even though the process should have taken years, according to one team of scientists studying the spill. “This was a surprise to us,” says the chemical oceanographer who led the study, which looked at methane and oxygen concentrations in samples taken from 207 stations spaced out over 36,000 square miles. The methane decomposition rates “were faster than had ever been recorded in any other place on the planet.”

What’s more, oxygen levels seem fine; scientists had feared they’d plunge as bacteria consumed oxygen in their feeding frenzy. But not everyone is convinced by these miraculous findings. “I would be thrilled if I could sit here and tell you, ‘Yeah, the methane’s all gone, isn’t that wonderful?’” one marine biologist tells the Christian Science Monitor. But there are other more plausible hypotheses—including that the methane just moved. “Five hundred thousand tons of methane does not get microbially consumed in three months.”

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