Monday, July 19, 2010

Oceanographer John Kessler analyzes methane levels from oil spill site
(Pictures can be seen at the link)

Preliminary results show concentrations at some points to be a million times higher than normal, researcher says John Kessler, a chemical oceanographer in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University, is currently analyzing methane levels in water collected from seven miles to 500 meters from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead.

Preliminary results, he says, point to high concentrations of the gas. "Methane levels ranged from 10,000 to nearly 1 million times higher in some spots than normal concentration," Kessler said.

The 10-day cruise, which was funded by a National Science Foundation Rapid Response grant, returned June 21 with nearly 1 million data points gathered. Since that time, he and his colleagues have been analyzing the results in the shore-based lab at Texas A&M.

Ramifications are multifold, Kessler said. He called the site a natural laboratory in which to better assess the effect of methane on global climate change. Naturally occurring methane seeps have been linked to rapid climate change. For instance, an event occurring 55 million years ago may have caused one of these spikes, scientists believe. So the Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster may, at least, help scientists better understand and perhaps predict methane effects on global temperatures.

Results also indicate that oxygen levels at some deepwater sites were 30 percent lower, while other sites remained unaffected. "This presents a puzzle that we cannot resolve without further research," Kessler says.

Background material for the PLUMES Research Expedition
Dr. John Kessler, Oceanography, College of Geosciences
PLUMES (Persistent Localized Underwater Methane Emission Study

Methane background and talking points

1. Of the spilling material, 40% by weight is natural gas.

2. The main chemical component of this natural gas is methane.

3. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas and the seafloor worldwide stores massive amounts of methane.

4. This spill is too small to influence the methane content in the atmosphere and thus will not influence modern climate.

5. Massive eruptions of natural gas from the seafloor have occurred in the geological past and this spill simulates one of those eruptions. Thus we can study this spill to understand if these previous (natural) massive eruptions in the past influenced climate and how they might behave in the future.

6. Microorganisms in the water eat natural gas and methane. This process consumes oxygen dissolved in the water. We will measure how much oxygen is being removed by natural gas and methane in the waters of the Gulf.

Sent from the R/V Cape Hatteras, June 18, 2010
Initial and Tentative Findings from the PLUMES (Persistent Localized Underwater Methane Emission Study) research expedition to the oil spill area in the Gulf of Mexico, onboard the R/V Cape Hatteras from June 11-20, 2010.

A team of scientists led by Dr. John D. Kessler (Texas A&M University College Station), with significant contributions by Dr. David Valentine (University of California Santa Barbara) and Dr. Rainer Amon (Texas A&M University Galveston) are concluding a 10-day study of natural gas and oil emitted from the broken riser pipe of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. The team, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation with additional support from the Department of Energy, investigated how natural
gas and oil might contribute to emission of greenhouse gases and the depletion of oxygen in this region. They sailed upon the research vessel Cape Hatteras, owned by NSF and operated by the Duke University/University of North Carolina Marine Consortium. The team is assembling maps of surface and deepwater plumes of oil and natural gas based on their preliminary results. Several localized plumes of hydrocarbons exist in the bottom third of the ocean water, as evidenced by sensor readings and shipboard chemical
analyses. Natural gas dissolved in waters below 3000 feet depth is displaying substantial increases above background. The ramifications of these findings are the topics of their current studies and must await many additional analyses and calculations before final results are available.

Science magazine article about the research:


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