Oil spills are usually associated with natural disasters, as the areas where oil spills occur become full of the bodies of sea creatures that used to live there. But occasionally, some oil spills are natural occurrences and the occasional microorganism like phytoplankton feeds on nutrients in oil and gas seeps.
- Occasionally, oil and gas seeps from the ocean floor to the surface
- These substances form bubbles very rich in nutrients when accumulating to the surface
- Despite the oil not being beneficial to them, the microorganisms feed on the nutrients in the bubbles
- Phytoplankton seems to remain unharmed by the gas and oil in low concentrations
- Natural occurring oil seeps seem to house twice the usual amount of phytoplankton
This new discovery speaks volumes about the process of evolution and about the prehistoric state of the ocean micro fauna, as these ancient microorganisms evolved with a natural resistance to low concentration natural oil spills.
And not only are they resistant to the oil and gas in small quantities, but they also feed on the nutrients formed when these substances near the surface.
According to satellite data, the highest concentrations of phytoplankton are located a few hundred feet below the water surface, as the microorganisms took advantage of both the highest concentration of rising nutrients, as well as of the natural sunlight.
Now, oil isn’t by any means beneficial to the microscopic creatures, as in high concentration it would lead to their death. However, doing this for eons, the creatures have adapted to the environment which is their home.
All of these underwater oil spills were picked up on satellites, and despite their impact on most of the environment seeming to be negative, phytoplankton takes advantage of the nutrients released to such an extent that it doubles the amount of the organisms generally present in those areas.
The team has three future goals left after their very interesting discovery.
The first one is to determine how the rest of the marine life is reacting to the oil spills. The second one is to determine the exact species of phytoplankton that profits the most from the nutrients in the oil spills. And last but not least, the team is planning to find out exactly how these gasses and oils make their way from the bottom of the ocean to the surface.
Published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the paper refers to the events researched by the Columbia University team of scientists in the Gulf of Mexico.
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