The Deepwater Horizon spill was a horrible environmental disaster which caused the release of massive amounts of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Methane, a natural greenhouse gas, was also released during the catastrophe. However, researchers have found that the methane is being consumed by microbes at a rate 10 to 100 times faster than previously believed. These microbes are essential in bringing the Gulf back to a healthier state.
Methane naturally seeps at spots scattered across the sea floor. Special microbes have evolved to digest and thrive off the methane, a carbon-based organic compound. During normal conditions, most of the methane that permeates the sea floor is consumed before it can reach the surface.
The explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig caused a massive outflow of methane, creating a sort of feeding frenzy for the deep sea microbes. The new methane caused a population explosion, as they constantly ate and multiplied. The researchers’ analysis showed that they consumed up to 100 times faster than previously realized.