My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: Obama and the Oilspill - Bacteria and Algae party till the fish come home

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Obama and the Oilspill - Bacteria and Algae party till the fish come home

What’s one man’s poison, signoir,
Is another’s meat or drink

Beaumont and Fletcher, love’s Cure, III, 2

Senator Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, John Public has long suspected, is a clandestine Marine Biologist. He and his wife, Michelle Obama, First Lady and their youngest daughter Sasha Obama, the First daughter (is there such a thing by the way?) were frolicking in the calm waters of Florida.

A state largely seen as lucky to escape while the impact of the Oil spill is felt elsewhere due to the explosion of the DeepWater Oil Well off the coast of Louisiana on Thursday April 20th 2010 as stated in the article “Obama swims in Gulf, says beaches open for business”, published Sunday August 15, 6:57 am ET by Ross Colvin, Yahoo! News.

Perfect photo ops, making John Public wonder if the President used to be an actor like former president Ronald Reagan. At this point it is good to note that Senator Barack Obama, President of the United States of America is swimming on the say-so of the Federal Scientists and as such is the point at which I, a science blogger enters this story, as there are conflicting reports about what has happened to all that Oil in such a short space of time.

This is because Federal Scientists claim that all the Oil has been removed, dissolved or dispersed, possibly even evaporated and only a quarter of the nearly 4.9 million barrels of Oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico remains since the environmental catastrophe, described as “Obama’s Katrina:, yet Georgia scientists claim that the missing Oil, nearly 80% is still present, just that it is below the surface as stated in the article “Ga. scientists: Gulf Oil not gone, 80 pct remains”, published Monday August 16, 6:30 pm ET, Yahoo! News.

The President had made it clear that the work of cleaning the Oil is not completely over, saying as much to reporters: “Oil is no longer flowing into the Gulf, and it has not been flowing for a month. But I'm here to tell you that our job is not finished, and we are not going anywhere until it is”.

However, it was evident that he was under pressure to visit the area as a show of solidarity with the plight of those affected by the catastrophe, so having the First Daughter, Sasha, in the photo-op, may have been a clever means of making sure that the spin doctors working to dismantle his credibility were more than satisfied that it was safe enough for even children to swim.

But from a purely scientific viewpoint, with no political point scoring intended, who is correct? The Federal Scientists or the Georgia Scientists? It appears they are both right, as John Public takes a walk down to the bayou of Louisiana………..

It is good to note that despite being a freelance blogger, I am also a Developer and an Electronics and Inorganic Chemistry maven, having studied same at UWI as well as having practical experience and expedience in both over my working life in Jamaica, my credentials plain for all to judge. So the call is not a political move on my part to declare both scientists correct, it is more of an Inorganic Chemistry and Physics intellectual jousting, if you will.

Oil, specifically petroleum, or “rock Oil”, albeit less dense than water and thereby floating and lazily spreading as the wind, rain and sun drive its motion, is still an organic mixture that is very edible to micro-organisms, especially bacteria and algae, who have long grown accustomed to eating Oil

The ocean floor all over the Earth is littered with deep vents and fissures that constantly leak Oil into the ocean, which these specialized bacteria and algae “nyam” as we Jamaicans would say, on a regular basis.

When the DeepWater Horizon Oil well blew its top and everyone was crying over the spilt milk…….or Oil in this case, the bacteria and algae were having a ball, feasting on an excess of Oil.

The only true casualties of the Oil spill were the birds, many either caked in Oil or died of hunger as the fish, many of who ate the phytoplankton in the area, notice the absence of their food due to the sunlight blocked by the floating umbrella of Oil and the difficult breathing due to lack of oxygen, and so fled the scene and sought food elsewhere.

Thus talk of an ecological disaster that would take years to recover was just that…….talk………. as most of the persons making the most noise were either the politicians themselves looking to get into the Senate on a Presidential bid as stated in the article “Could the spill restore Jindal as a GOP whiz kid?, published Tuesday June 8, 6:49 am ET, by KEVIN McGILL, Associated Press Writer, Yahoo! News with Republicans looking to get a few kicks in on the Democrats and scientists on their payroll. Thus the fish were fine, probably on vacation as the algae and bacteria dined, a feast fit for a king.

Then something interesting happened, at least to us Marine Biologist and Inorganic Chemists, to all that Oil. It began to complexate with the Sodium Chloride or Sea Salt, which also contains traces of magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and cobalt and formed heavier-than-Oil molecular complexes that sank but not all the way to the bottom, letting the sunlight through.

Life began to slowly return within a matter of days but unable to thrive deep below, as a cloud of suspended Oil hung like a cloud in hovering midway in the depths, the fish flying over head, a vista much akin to an aircraft flying above the clouds in the sky, only the fish would see black clouds of suspended Oil instead of pearly white clouds.

The organometallic complex is still edible to the bacteria and algae, who are still munching on it now as we speak, while the water above is completely clear, returning to pre-Oil spill concentrations, measured in parts per million of oil, hence the Federal Scientists claim that is had all gone and thus why the First Daughter, Sasha is perfectly safe, thus score one for the Federal Scientists.

From a purely Physics point of view, however, the Federal Scientists are incorrect, as it had not all evaporated, as Oil of that grade does not easily evaporate readily, even in direct sunlight, as most of it would have complexated and be suspended below and thus unseen.

The Oil was hovering in mid water due its specific gravity resulting from its complexation with potassium, manganese, sodium and cobalt present naturally in seawater. So the Federal Scientists got it half right or were deliberately misrepresenting the results of their tests, so score one for the Scientists from the University of Georgia.

But here is where it gets interesting to my friends over in Bio-chemistry and Marine Biology at the University of the West Indies. The bacteria and algae, being overstuffed, and probably tired, settled down and had some kids. They reproduced in abundance due to the excess Oil and thus their increasing number exponentially will accelerate their “nyamming” [eating] of the suspended Oil faster and faster, thus depleting the oxygen in the water exponentially faster as well.

This is further accelerated if nitrates are present in the water, as nitrates, coming from fertilizer polluted rivers, will wash from inland and exponentially fuel the reproduction of the bacteria and algae, thus making the entire area totally Oxygen free and keeping the fish away for quite a while in a matter of weeks.

Eventually as time goes by, probably over a three (3) to six (6) month period, all that Oil, suspended below the surface, believe it or not, will be completely consumed, leaving behind an excess of bacteria and algae with nothing to eat, perfect food for fish slowly returning as the oxygen levels begin to rise again due to presence of anaerobic bacteria and coral that will start to thrive once the sunlight has returned converting the carbon dioxide slaked water into oxygen.

Perfect food for protozoan and shrimp, which became perfect food for larger animals up the food chain, such as fish, the supposedly “delicate” ecosystem behaving more like Venture Capitalists at a funding round for Alternative energy prospects!

However, with the nitrates still flowing by the gallon in from the rivers into the sea, nitrates still present in the now clearing cloud of suspended Oil, the oxygen levels begin to drop again as the algae, and bacteria, re-energized, begin to feast on nitrates in excess, creating an oxygen free zone just ten (10) to fifteen (15) kilometers of the coast, being as the algae and bacteria would eat more peaceful in less disturbed waters farther out to sea as now all the Oil is gone.

Trapped, the fish are forced to swim towards the coast into now more oxygenated waters, eating bacteria and algae along the way to their traditional spawning grounds in the Louisiana bayou………with sharks in hot pursuit.

These Oxygen Free Zones usually become disturbed by the every frequent hurricane, which as meteorologists knows, as fuelled by hot rising moisture from the sea. The hurricane vortex also moves the water, and the churning foam and breakers help to dissolve and absorb more atmospheric oxygen, thus returning the oxygen balance, part of the cycle of renewal that hurricanes bring to the Gulf of Mexico.

The area, ironically, is healed by the Carib God Hurracan, with his strong gusting wind breathing oxygenate life back into the water. A couple good Category 5 hurricanes, John Public, now wearing his Marine Biology hat, muses, chocolate pipe in hand and the balance is restored after the “catastrophe”, thus showing up the Republicans as merely looking for mud to stick on the President, when Biodiversity is doing its job, and thus guaranteeing Senator Barack Obama, President of the United States of America a second term in office.

The only danger, however, is that, before a good hurricane comes, the fish, trapped between the coastlines, which also double as their spawning grounds along with the shrimp, attract hungry sharks, looking for food. Senator Barack Obama, President of the United States of America and his family are more in danger of a shark attack

This usually occurs in the summers (much thanks to Steven Spielberg on that one in Jaws) than being messed up with Oil, which is organic anyway and is already present in trace amounts in the Gulf of Mexico long before the Oil spill.

Oh, I forgot about the poisonous lionfish……….but they can swim and be caught an be served up by chef Dr. Christopher Tufton, Minister of Agriculture in good garlic sauce,  my next article…..

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