The tragic events that took place on April 20, 2010 on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico took the lives of 11 people and initiated the release of oil and natural gas into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Analyses by BP and academic scientists confirmed that natural gas, specifically methane, was the most abundant molecular component released from this disaster. My research normally studies the natural release of methane from the ocean floor, thus investigating this anthropogenic disaster was a natural extension of the current capabilities in my laboratory. I began this project with apprehension since this incident began with the loss of human life and my research normally focuses on how the planet naturally functions outside of such large, direct anthropogenic influences. Nonetheless, our goal was to make a little lemonade out of the lemons handed to us and learn something about the behavior of rapid hydrocarbon emissions in deep water in both natural as well as anthropogenic releases. More specifically, we used this situation as a natural laboratory to study the rapid (and relatively short term in a geologic sense) release of methane and its subsequent global biogeochemical cycling. There have been many natural large and rapid releases of methane from the sea floor in the history of the planet and this event is giving us a better understanding on how these natural events functioned in the past and a better predictability on how they might cycle in the future global system.


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