Mezić Research Group

Dynamical Systems and Nonlinear Control Theory

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Reference Details
Valentine, David L., Mezić, Igor, Maćešić, Senka, Črnjarić-Žic, Nelida, Ivić, Stefan, Hogan, Patrick J., Fonoberov, Vladimir A. and Loire, Sophie (2012), "Dynamic autoinoculation and the microbial ecology of a deep water hydrocarbon irruption", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The irruption of gas and oil into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon event fed a deep sea bacterial bloom that consumed hydrocarbons in the affected waters, formed a regional oxygen anomaly, and altered the microbiology of the region. In this work, we develop a coupled physical–metabolic model to assess the impact of mixing processes on these deep ocean bacterial communities and their capacity for hydrocarbon and oxygen use. We find that observed biodegradation patterns are well-described by exponential growth of bacteria from seed populations present at low abundance and that current oscillation and mixing processes played a critical role in distributing hydrocarbons and associated bacterial blooms within the northeast Gulf of Mexico. Mixing processes also accelerated hydrocarbon degradation through an autoinoculation effect, where water masses, in which the hydrocarbon irruption had caused blooms, later returned to the spill site with hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria persisting at elevated abundance. Interestingly, although the initial irruption of hydrocarbons fed successive blooms of different bacterial types, subsequent irruptions promoted consistency in the structure of the bacterial community. These results highlight an impact of mixing and circulation processes on biodegradation activity of bacteria during the Deepwater Horizon event and suggest an important role for mixing processes in the microbial ecology of deep ocean environments.

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