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28 Jun, 2010 23:24

Methane poses new danger in Gulf of Mexico

Recent reports are indicating that as much as 1 million times the normal level of methane is showing up near the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, enough to potentially create dead zones in the water.

The methane gas is trapped in deep water locations and the methane measurements themselves may give a view to the extent of the oil spill.

These are higher levels than we have ever seen at any other location in the ocean itself,” said Dr. John Kessler, a professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University.

Kessler explained that there could be oxygen draw-downs in these areas, as microorganisms consume the methane and oxygen in the water. This can create dead zones that impact the marine life.

Oil is a complex mixture of organic molecules, including methane. Methane is a simple component that is easily understood and tracked by scientists and can be used to quantify the size of the spill more accurately.

The oil spill is still in its infancy and the preliminary analysis does show that there are current oxygen level draw-downs.

The impending hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico has many concerned that disastrous events are imminent, as bad weather and the oil spill combine.

We can classify that in the realm of possibilities, but not really in the realm of probabilities,” said Kessler.

He argued that the data is not pointing to any “doomsday” scenarios at this time.

Any sort of evacuation would likely be much more temporary,” he said.

Kessler said the various people working to contain the oil spill are highly committed and working hard to solve the problem.

I was rather impressed by the magnitude of everything and also how hard everyone was working,” said Kessler.