Articles | Volume 9, issue 8
Research article
06 Aug 2012
Research article |  | 06 Aug 2012

Fine-scale variability in methanol uptake and oxidation: from the microlayer to 1000 m

J. L. Dixon and P. D. Nightingale

Abstract. The aim of this research was to make the first depth profiles of the microbial assimilation of methanol carbon and its oxidation to carbon dioxide and use as an energy source from the microlayer to 1000 m. Some of the highest reported methanol oxidation rate constants of 0.5–0.6 d−1 were occasionally found in the microlayer and immediately underlying waters (10 cm depth), albeit these samples also showed the greatest heterogeneity compared to other depths down to 1000 m. Methanol uptake into the particulate phase was exceptionally low in microlayer samples, suggesting that any methanol utilised by microbes in this environment is for energy generation. The sea surface microlayer and 10 cm depth also showed a higher proportion of bacteria with a low DNA content, and bacterial leucine uptake rates in surface microlayer samples were either less than or the same as those in the underlying 10 cm layer. The average methanol oxidation and particulate rates were however statistically the same throughout the depths sampled, although the latter were highly variable in the near-surface 0.25–2 m compared to deeper depths. The statistically significant relationship demonstrated between uptake of methanol into particles and bacterial leucine incorporation suggests that many heterotrophic bacteria could be using methanol carbon for cellular growth. On average, methanol bacterial growth efficiency (BGEm) in the top 25 m of the water column is 6% and decreases with depth. Although, for microlayer and 10 cm-depth samples, BGEm is less than the near-surface 25–217 cm, possibly reflecting increased environmental UV stress resulting in increased maintenance costs, i.e. energy required for survival. We conclude that microbial methanol uptake rates, i.e. loss from seawater, are highly variable, particularly close to the seawater surface, which could significantly impact upon seawater concentrations and hence the air–sea flux.

Final-revised paper