Why top scientists are NOT convinced by new report claiming methane has “vanished” from Gulf

Methane from BP spill goes missing, ScienceNews, January 6, 2011:

Methane, the predominant hydrocarbon produced by the BP blowout last year, has all but vanished from Gulf of Mexico waters, a new study reports — presumably eaten up by marine bacteria. …

Marine ecologist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia in Athens:

“Just because you can’t find methane in the spot where you lowered your [instruments] doesn’t mean there’s no methane out there somewhere.” …

From late June until early August, however, no one continued to track their whereabouts, Joye observes. So “the more parsimonious explanation” for why [John] Kessler’s group found no BP methane: “ They lost track of the freaking plume.” …

Joye has another problem with the new paper’s conclusions. Methane-noshing bacteria need more than oxygen to proliferate in the presence of a hydrocarbon feast. “So there is no way,” she contends, “that you could produce a population big enough over the time frame they describe to have consumed all of that methane — unless you’d sprayed iron, nitrogen, phosphorous and copper on them. To my knowledge, that didn’t happen.”

Oceanographer Ian MacDonald of Florida State University:

[T]he paper contains too little data to convince him that microbes really ate up all of the methane. It’s possible, he says, that what the researchers sampled was merely the wake of a passing plume and its bacterial stragglers. …

[M]uch of the seeping methane makes it to the surface intact. “So I find it perplexing that when you ramp up the discharge rate by many orders of magnitude, all of the gas is suddenly consumed before it reaches the surface.”

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