In this study we report the formation of marine oil snow (MOS), its associated microbial community, the factors influencing its formation, and the microbial response to crude oil in surface waters of the Faroe-Shetland Channel (FSC). The FSC is a subarctic region that is hydrodynamically complex located in the northeast Atlantic where oil extraction is currently occurring and where exploration is likely to expand into its deeper waters (>500 m). A major oil spill in this region may mirror the aftermath that ensued following the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, where the massive influx of Macondo crude oil triggered the formation of copious quantities of rapidly sinking MOS and successional blooms of opportunistic oil-degrading bacteria. In laboratory experiments, we simulated environmental conditions in sea surface waters of the FSC using water collected from this site during the winter of 2015. We demonstrated that the presence of dispersant triggers the formation of MOS, and that nutrient amendments magnify this. Illumina MiSeq sequencing revealed the enrichment on MOS of associated oil-degrading (Cycloclasticus, Thalassolituus, Marinobacter) and EPS-producing (Halomonas, Pseudoalteromonas, Alteromonas) bacteria, and included major representation by Psychrobacter and Cobetia with putative oil-degrading/EPS-producing qualities. The formation of marine snow, in the absence of crude oil and dispersant, in seawater amended with nutrients alone indicated that the de novo synthesis of bacterial EPS is a key factor in MOS formation, and the glycoprotein composition of the MOS aggregates confirmed that its amorphous biopolymeric matrix was of microbial (likely bacterial) origin. The presence of dispersants and crude oil with/without nutrients resulted in distinct microbial responses marked by intermittent, and in some cases short-lived, blooms of opportunistic heterotrophs, principally obligate hydrocarbonoclastic (Alcanivorax, Cycloclasticus, Thalassolituus, Marinobacter) and EPS-producing (Halomonas, Alteromonas, Pseudoalteromonas) bacteria. Interestingly, members of the Vibrionales (principally the genus Vibrio) were strongly enriched by crude oil (with/without dispersant or nutrients), highlighting a putative importance for these organisms in crude oil biodegradation in the FSC. Our findings mirror those observed at Deepwater Horizon and hence underscore their broad relevance.
- School of Engineering & Physical Sciences - Associate Professor
- School of Engineering & Physical Sciences, Institute of Mechanical, Process & Energy Engineering - Associate Professor
- Research Centres and Themes, Centre for Marine Biology and Biodiversity - Associate Professor
- Research Centres and Themes, Energy Academy - Associate Professor
Person: Academic (Research & Teaching)