In addition to oil, the Deepwater Horizon site is gushing massive amounts of methane – a principal component of natural gas.
About 40% of the volume emanating from the pipe penetrating the seafloor is methane. In fact, a giant methane bubble is thought to have been involved in the initial explosion of the Deepwater Horizon Platform.
Methane is a gas and should float to the surface and be (ideally) captured, or at very least, released into the atmosphere. But when it bubbles through seawater at very low temperatures and very high pressures, it doesn’t just float to the surface. It can mix with water, undergo chemical changes, and remain deep below the surface.
We do not understand the environmental effects that water-saturated methane and its related chemical compounds will have on marine food chains, but one might well imagine they are not good. One of the most obvious ramifications is repeated dead zones; shifting over time and space. Of course, others will come, we just don’t know this well enough to predict them at the present time.
Oceanographer Samantha Joye has reported methane concentrations 10,000 times above the normal level found in seawaters and oxygen levels at 40% below normal levels. Her investigation is not on the surface, but 1000 feet beneath the it. She reports these as “the most bizarre looking oxygen profiles I have ever seen anywhere”. It will take some time to try put the pieces together and figure out what the effects of this aspect of the spill are and will be.
If you would like more information on her research in an easy to read format, check out her blog; it is a great source of information.
So what do we do with this newest tidbit of information about the oil “spill” in the Gulf of Mexico? I think most importantly, we dedicate ourselves to changing the way we consume energy; demand change – on both a personal and societal level. Secondly, don’t be pacified that the only ramifications involve oil on the surface and shorelines. Thirdly, recognize the dire need to research and know more about the oceans that support our life on this planet.