Microbes “eating” oil. Source: Reuters/Yahoo!Green
Recently, we reported on evidence of a precarious Manhattan-sized oil plume resulting from the BP spill, but new findings show that the plume has been almost entirely consumed by hungry microbes! Say what??? With all of this back and forth – the oil plume is still there, the oil plume is gone – we’re still a bit skeptical. But if what the scientists have found is true, we need to pay homage to the fast-eating micro-organisms that helped us out simply by dining on one of their favorite comfort foods – oil.
The microbes responsible for the disappearance of the plume are able to biodegrade hydrocarbons much more efficiently than previously thought without significantly depleting oxygen like other known oil-eating bacteria do. One of the scientists who worked on the study, Terry Hazen of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said that the proteobacteria (a.k.a “bugs”) appeared to have been stimulated by the massive oil spill, boosting their ability to degrade oil in cold water and allowing them to chomp their way through the hydrocarbons so quickly that the plume is now undetectable.
So if the bugs were busy feasting on the plume and breaking it down, why did other findings show that it was still there this whole time? Well the team that reported on the size and scope of the plume were forced to leave the area in late June because of Hurricane Alex and at that time, they estimated that the plume was likely to remain for some time. Then the well was capped in mid-July, and according to Hazen, within two weeks of the capping, the plume could no longer be detected. And to support the theory, a phenomenon called “marine snow” indicating microbes had been eating hydrocarbons.