Following the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, UCSB researcher David Valentine and Texas A&M’s John Kessler were given the opportunity to study the distinct behavior of the gasses leaking from the vessel.

Because the origin of the leak was a mile under the ocean surface, the spill was a unique study. Furthermore, the water prevented methane and other chemicals from being released into the atmosphere, which caused a distinct response.

“This gas trapping will go down as one of the distinguishing hallmarks of a deep oil spill,” Valentine said.

The pair also found that two-thirds of the bacterial productivity and respiration in the deep-water plumes can be linked to natural gas. While the study suggests that ethane, propane and butane plumes may disappear quickly, methane — the most abundantly spilled substance — may not. The consequences of this are currently unknown.

According to Kessler, the ability to study the chemicals associated with the spill will help scientists deal with other similar spills.