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UGA research examines fate of methane following BP oil spill

Back in Aug. 2010, the American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science held a news conference regarding the release of oil many miles below the ocean's surface
Back in Aug. 2010, the American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science held a news conference regarding the release of oil many miles below the ocean's surface
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

This afternoon, Sept. 2, a new paper in the September 2014 issue ​of BioScience featuring important research from the Gulf of Mexico went live.

The paper has been authored by Drs. Samantha Joye, Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia, Andreas Teske Professor of Marine Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Joel E. Kostka, Professor of Biology at Georgia Institute of Technology.

"Microbial Dynamics Following the Macondo Oil Well Blowout across Gulf of Mexico Environments" describes the various impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon/Macondo blowout on Gulf of Mexico pelagic, benthic and coastal seashore ​microbial communities.

The paper provides a "synthesis of all papers published to date that describe impacts of the Macondo blowout on Gulf microbial communities", according to Joye spokesperson Christine Laporte.

In the paper, the authors elucidate population-level responses of hydrocarbon-degrading microbes to the deepwater oil plume. In addition, the researchers looked at the microbial response to the blowout that resulted in the formation of large flocs of marine “snow".

The authors call for the inclusion of marine snow in the federal oil budget, which is intended to describe the fate of discharged oil.

Joye answered some of this reporter's questions clear back in Jan. 2011, just a few months after the massive oil spill was halted in the Gulf of Mexico. Asked about how her findings might differ from those we'd heard about from NOAA, BP, or the U.S. Government, she said then:

I was the first one to find oil on the bottom with a remote instrument (multi corer) and the first to “see” the bottom with my own eyes. Seeing the bottom – seeing the oiled/dead animals – that gives me a very different impression of the devastation on the bottom. For example, natural seeps, like MC118, support a variety of seep endemic fauna that have survived happily and well at seeps for hundreds of years.

Some of those fauna, sea fans for example, have been suffocated by oil. Those organisms are slow growing – a two-foot tall sea fan could be more than 100 years old. The population will not recover quickly. That’s just one example. There are benthic impacts from this blowout. I have seen them. Everyone who has looked at the dive video has gone, "oh my goodness, I did not expect to see that (large areas of dead organisms…)" The media people I took down in the sub (Richard Harris from NPR and Matt Gutman from ABC) had the same response.

Joye has been on several dives in the GOM including long before the Deepwater Horizon accident. Her most recent dive was in April of this year, approximately four years following the spill.

Bold marks and hyperlinks are the examiner's.

Note: an earlier version of this story included the wrong link to the paper. The examiner regrets the error.

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