The Monitor Daily (U.S.) – Natural oil seeps boost phytoplankton in the Gulf of Mexico as per the findings of a study stemming from Columbia University. Published in the Nature Geoscience journal, the research looked at how the occurrence of oil and gas affects microbial organisms in the Gulf of Mexico.
Microbial organisms thriving here are organized in communities known generically as phytoplankton. Phytoplankton is typically sensitive to any toxin or disturbing element in the their environment.
Also, oil is deemed to be an aggravating factor contributing to the demise of marine life if present in large quantities. Yet in the Gulf of Mexico, oil which is naturally released from the ocean floor deposits seems to contribute to a flourishing phytoplankton. Oil seeps and gas seeps have been found to bring a swath of nutrients contributing to a nourishing environment for the microbial organisms.
From the ocean floor, these tiny bubbles known as oil seeps travel up for almost a mile to reach the water surface. As more and more oil and gas seeps reach the surface, the nutrient-rich seeps attract large phytoplankton populations.
Using satellite data and other measurements, the researchers found that natural oil seeps boost phytoplankton in the Gulf of Mexico. The microbial organisms are particularly drawn to the nutrient-rich seeps forming in the Gulf.
The study also found that neither oil or gas in large concentrations are beneficial for the microbial organisms. However, the findings suggest that present in small concentrations, both gas and oil may actually help phytoplankton to thrive. The researchers concluded that based on the data at hand, phytoplankton communities are healthier and more numerous in the Gulf of Mexico areas where the concentration of oil seeps and gas seeps in higher.
Ajit Subramaniam with the Columbia Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory stated that the newly published study indicates that microbial organisms present in these area may be in fact preconditioned to rely on oil for survival. At least as low concentrations, oil seeps did not pose any threat to phytoplankton communities congregating around them. Long term exposure to oil seeps may however have a negative impact.
The surveyed areas which had high concentrations of oil seeps and gas seeps also had twice the number of phytoplankton communities compared to nearby areas in the Gulf of Mexico.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia