Guy Harvey Magazine

SPR 2011

Guy Harvey Magazine is focused on fishing, boating, scuba diving, and marine conservation. Portfolios from the world's best fishing photographers, articles on gear, travel, tournaments, apparel, lifestyle, seafood recipes, sustainable fisheries.

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Page 65 of 83

DISSIPATION AND EVAPORATION Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons are one of the most widespread organic pollutants on the planet because they’re present in everything from oil to wood smoke to burning coal, and even that stick of smoldering incense you had in your college dorm room (don’t try denying it). Some PAHs can be highly toxic and some are fairly benign. The oil from the Deepwater Horizon contained toxic PAHs that presented serious health risks to any life forms they came in contact with. Fortunately, PAHs in raw oil tend to dissipate, weaken, and evaporate fairly quickly so by the time tar balls were hitting Gulf beaches their toxicity levels were greatly diminished. This was accelerated greatly by the very warm Gulf water and steamy summer days that helped in the initial process of breaking down the PAHs. That doesn’t mean you should put tar balls in your gumbo but the warm gulf water and steamy summer days did help the initial process of breaking down the PAHs. THE PROBE OF THE MICROBE Another major factor working in the Gulf’s favor were super bugs called microbes that were eating the oil spill like an army of Pac-Men. It WSYRHIH E PSX PMOI WGMIRGI ½GXMSR FYX MR JEGX MX [EW NYWX WGMIRGI 3MP eating microbes have been around for eons consuming oil that seeps naturally from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. An article in 3R)EVXL SVK claimed that microbes eat the equivalent of two Exxon Valdez spills each year in the Gulf of Mexico. And that’s in a normal, non-spill year. ;L] HS XLI] IEX SMP# -X´W XLIMV QEMR WSYVGI SJ JSSH IRIVK] 0IX´W NYWX say it’s what spinach is to Popeye. During the spill, when teams of scientists swooped in to investigate, they actually discovered new strands of cold-water, oil-eating microbes 8]TMGEP +YPJ WLVMQT FSEXW XMIH EPSRK XLI HSGOW MR %TEPEGLMGSPE *PSVMHE in the chilly waters deep in the gulf. It was previously believed that these critters only lived in warm water, but the truth is there’s a lot we don’t know about the science of microbes. Terry Hazen, head of the ecology HITEVXQIRX EX XLI 0E[VIRGI &IVOIPI] 2EXMSREP 0EFSVEXSV] MR 'EPMJSVRME makes bold claims about microbes. “There is no compound, man-made or natural, that micro-organisms cannot degrade,” he said. Scientists LEZI IZIR JSYRH QMGVSFIW XLEX [MPP XYVR LI\EZEPIRX GLVSQMYQ ¯ XLI XS\MG substance exposed in the movie )VMR &VSGOSZMGL ¯ MRXS GLVSQMYQ --- E benign form of the element. In addition to raw oil, tar balls, and the rest, scientists also worried about enormous amounts of methane that billowed from the well. In June, Texas A&M oceanography professor John Kessler measured methane levels at 100,000 times higher than normal. Methane is bad, much worse than carbon dioxide, and scientists worry that methane trapped under the ice cap could dramatically accelerate global warming as the ice melts. /IWWPIV´W VITSVX GEYWIH XLI QIXLERI VIH ¾EKW XS ¾] LMKL 3RI FPSKKIV got a lot of press when he claimed methane gas would stay trapped in the Gulf like “a massive planetary fart.” I like the turn of phrase but so far no humongous Silent Suzie has escaped from the buns of the ocean. After the well was capped Kessler went back and found normal levels of methane. He was shocked. He also found large numbers of ocean bacteria called methanotrophs, another group of microbes that feast on methane. Kessler speculated that the microbes, which are usually present in small numbers, multiplied rapidly and disposed of the methane. It was just a theory because he didn’t witness the act. However, the methane was gone and the microbes were not. With all of these microbes multiplying faster than a band of dessert 66

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