June 24, 2010
As much as 1 million times the normal level of methane gas has been found in some regions near the Gulf oil spill, enough to potentially deplete oxygen and create a dead zone, U.S. scientists said on Tuesday.
“There are huge quantities of methane gas that are mixed in with oil spewing up from the seafloor,” said John Kessler, assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography of Texas A&M University who specializes in ocean chemistry.
“The mixture coming up is now about 40 percent methane and 60 percent oil from undersea of the Gulf of Mexico,” Kessler explained in an exclusive interview with Xinhua. “This means there are immense amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, being input into the Gulf.”
Kessler said that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, while no doubt an environmental and economic disaster to much of the Gulf Coast, has been focus of criticism, but the eruption of methane gas has been ignored.
“We know that millions of years ago, there were vast undersea eruptions where methane gas escaped just like it is doing right now,” he adds. “It is thought that this methane eventually contributed to climate change millions of years ago, so this gives us a chance to study the methane from that perspective as we measure how much is entering the atmosphere today.”
Dr. Kessler is a chemical oceanographer who focuses on isotope biogeochemistry to elucidate how gases in the ocean cycle and ultimately participate in global climate change. He is leading a team composed of other Texas A&M University oceanographers as well as several graduate students to find out the effects of all this methane in the Gulf of Mexico.
Kessler explained that there could be oxygen draw-downs in these areas, as microorganisms consume the methane and oxygen in the water. This can create dead zones that impact the marine life.
“These are higher levels than we have ever seen at any other location in the ocean itself,” said Dr. John Kessler, a professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University.
Oil is a complex mixture of organic molecules, including methane. Methane is a simple component that is easily understood and tracked by scientists and can be used to quantify the size of the spill more accurately.
The team has been awarded 160,000 dollar grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to examine methane gas in the Gulf oil spill, believed to be one of the first such grants given to any Texas scientist.
Another question the team hopes to examine, according to Dr Kessler, is how much oxygen is being consumed in the Gulf waters by the methane gas.
“While some of the methane is emitted to the Earth’s atmosphere, other parts of it dissolve in the Gulf waters and are literally eaten by living microorganisms, a process which consumes oxygen,” explained the young vigorous oceanographer at A&M University, one of the world’s leading research institutions.
“We know that there are large areas of the Gulf that have oxygen-depleted waters that occur annually, and these are known as ‘the dead zone.’ But will these large amounts of methane make the dead zone areas even larger or the oxygen-depletion more severe? What are the links between methane and oxygen down there? We hope to find out,” Kessler said.
While showing great concern about the environmental disaster to at least 65 miles of shoreline already affected by oil making landfall in the marshes and wetlands, Dr. Kessler believes that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico provides an once-in-a-lifetime window of research on many levels.
“No one would never ever be allowed to ‘dump’ this much methane and oil into the Gulf to replicate any scientific experiment,” he noted. “So this oil spill gives us a very rare opportunity to study what has happened in the past, and perhaps to give us some good clues about what might happen in the future.”
Reference: Dr. John Kessler, Professor of Oceanography, Texas A&M University
Please read his Biography and Qualifications at the link above.