Perhaps it’s a disservice to continue calling the oil pouring into the Gulf a spill. “Spill” makes it hard to conceptualize the estimated 60,000 barrels of oil per day blasting up from a well more than 5,000 feet below sea level. It also makes it difficult to picture how, as BP estimates, as much as 40 percent of the material “spilling” is methane gas. That methane has been largely overshadowed by the horror of oil-soaked pelicans and tar balls washing ashore, but now a survey, completed on Monday, has measured how the methane has spread.
What’s the problem with methane? The microbes that feed off it. It can create “methane seep ecosystems”–shallow food chains that eat crude oil and dissolved methane and in the process consume all available oxygen, leaving nothing for other marine life forms. Bacteria eat the methane and “ice worms” (so-called because they live around ice-like methane hydrate) eat bacteria, but nothing else eats these worms. This creates a “dead zone.”
So in short [an abundance of creatures that use] methane for food and oxygen to “breathe” will create areas where only bacteria and a few other non-life sustaining organisms can live. All others die. [San Francisco Chronicle]
Canada has approved for limited production a genetically engineered, environmentally friendly pig.
The “Enviropig” has been genetically modified in such a manner that its urine and feces contain almost 65 percent less phosphorus than usual. That could be good news for lakes, rivers, and ocean deltas, where phosphorous from animal waste can play a role in causing algal blooms. These outbursts of algae rapidly deplete the water’s oxygen, creating vast dead zones for fish and other aquatic life [National Geographic].
All living creatures need phosphorus, as the element plays an important role in many cellular and organ functions. Domesticated pigs get their daily dose from corn or cereal grains, but not without a struggle. These foods contain a type of phosphorus that is indigestible to the pigs, so farmers also feed their pigs an enzyme called phytase to allow the animals to break down and digest the phosphorus. But ingested phytase isn’t as effective at breaking down phosphorus as phytase created inside the pig would be, so a fair amount of the element gets flushed out in pig waste. That waste, in turn, can make its way into the water supply [National Geographic].
This summer, Louisiana researchers say the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico will reach record size, a prediction that troubles environmentalists and fishermen alike. Researchers say that blame for this record-setting year goes partly to farmers’ rising interest in ethanol, and partly to the aftermath of the Midwest flooding.
The dead zone is an area off the coast of Louisiana and Texas where the water’s oxygen level drops each summer, creating a zone which can’t support most marine life. The low oxygen, or hypoxic, area is primarily caused by high nutrient levels, which stimulates an overgrowth of algae that sinks and decomposes. The decomposition process in turn depletes dissolved oxygen in the water. The dead zone is of particular concern because it threatens valuable commercial and recreational Gulf fisheries [LiveScience].