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Study: Bacteria made a meal of gulf spill

Sept. 11, 2012 at 3:45 PM   |   Comments

ROCHESTER, N.Y., Sept. 11 (UPI) -- A study says following a disastrous 2010 oil rig explosion and spill, bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico consumed at least 200,000 tons of oil and natural gas.

Researchers from the University of Rochester and Texas A&M University analyzed an extensive data set to determine not only how much oil and gas was eaten and removed by naturally occurring bacteria following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but also how the characteristics of this feast changed with time.

"A significant amount of the oil and gas that was released was retained within the ocean water more than one-half mile below the sea surface," study co-author John Kessler of the University of Rochester said.

"It appears that the hydrocarbon-eating bacteria did a good job of removing the majority of the material that was retained in these layers," he said in a Rochester release Tuesday.

The study published this week in Environmental Science and Technology found the consumption of the oil and gas by bacteria in the deep gulf had stopped by September 2010, five months after the explosion.

"It is unclear if this indicates that this great feast was over by this time or if the microorganisms were simply taking a break before they start on dessert and coffee," Kessler said.

"Our results suggest that some (about 40 percent) of the released hydrocarbons that once populated these layers still remained in the gulf post September 2010, so food was available for the feast to continue at some later time. But the location of those substances and whether they were biochemically transformed is unknown."

Topics: John Kessler
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