Oil munching bacteria not breaking down giant underwater oil-plume

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Washington, Aug 20 (ANI): A new study has confirmed the presence of a gigantic underwater oil plume in the Gulf of Mexico.

The plume has formed as a result of the BP oil spill and chances are that that it will persist for a long time.

Many scientists had predicted that oil-eating bacteria already present in the Gulf area would degrade the oil but the new study shows that the 35-kilometer-long, 200-meter-high pocket of oil at depths of 1,100 meters has stayed where it was for months.

"We don't have any clear indication as to why it set up at that depth," National Geographic News quoted study leader Richard Camilli as saying.

The WHOI team used autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) equipped with mass spectrometers to find that samples in various regions near the spill site had hydrocarbons-ingredients of oil-at concentrations of 50 micrograms a litre.

Christopher Reddy, a marine chemist at WHOI, said that even the oil-eating microbes are known for their unpredictable behaviour, which may be the reason they are not able to break down the oil from the plume.

Reddy added that further studies are required to find out why.

Oceanographer David Hollander said that the spill appears to be toxic to phytoplankton but it was too early to say if marine life around the Gulf is also being affected.

But the research does show that the oil plume hasn't yet created a dead zone.

Experts are also trying to find out how farther will the plume extend. At the time of the survey, the plume was migrating about 6.5 kilometres a day southwest from the spill site, according to the study.

"We don't know what the fate of this plume now is-this was a forensic snapshot in late June, and we have not been back there since," Camilli cautioned.

"Quite obviously, it is the whole ocean that we must protect and effectively manage," said Robert Carney, a biological oceanographer.

"We are badly in need of new ideas."

The study is published today in the journal Science. (ANI)

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