What's eating the Deepwater plume?

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 was one of the most environmentally critical spills. But, the plume of oil that spewed into the sea was eaten by hydrocarbon-degrading microbes according to a new simulation by a research team at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "We simulated the conditions of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in the lab and were able to understand the mechanisms for oil degradation from all of the principal oil-degrading bacteria that were observed in the original oil spill," says team member Ping Hu. Our study demonstrated the importance of using dispersants in producing neutrally buoyant, tiny oil droplets, which kept much of the oil from reaching the ocean surface," adds team leader Gary Andersen. "Naturally occurring microbes at this depth are highly specialized in growing by using specific components of the oil for their food source. So the oil droplets provided a large surface area for the microbes to chew up the oil."