Oil Seeps in Gulf of Mexico Not Affecting PhytoplanktonBy Russell Westerholm
Tiny microbes called phytoplankton are doing well in the waters above oil seeps in the Gulf of Mexico.
Published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the new study details how phytoplankton do not appear to be harmed by low concentrations of oil. Not only are the natural oils not hurting them, but their populations are twice as large as others.
"This is the beginning of evidence that some microbes in the Gulf may be preconditioned to survive with oil, at least at lower concentrations," study co-author Ajit Subramaniam, an oceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said in a press release. "In this case, we clearly see these phytoplankton are not negatively affected at low concentrations of oil, and there is an accompanying process that helps them thrive. This does not mean that exposure to oil at all concentrations for prolonged lengths of time is good for phytoplankton."
Part of the research was also aimed at determining how much of the oil seeps contained left over oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.
"Although natural seeps are significant over time, the spill was vastly more concentrated in time and space, which is why its impact was so severe," Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University, said in a press release. "It's giving us a basis for all of these other experiments.
"It's really revolutionizing how we look at the Gulf. It also gives scientists the exact geographic points where oil from the spill was located, so researchers can go to the Gulf floor and explore the area to see if there has been any environmental effect."