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