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Gulf oil spill: Scientists confirm deepwater plumes

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Scientists with the University of South Florida say laboratory tests have confirmed that oil spewing from the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico has accumulated in at least two extensive plumes deep underwater. The researchers said in Baton Rouge, La., on Friday that their tests confirmed initial findings based on field instruments.

The lab tests are the most conclusive evidence yet in a vigorous scientific debate about where much of the oil is ending up. The researchers say the extensive layers of oil are sitting far beneath the surface miles from the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion. The university is collecting data for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Government scientists, including NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco, had been reluctant to blame underwater plumes on the catastrophic well blowout that has been spewing oil into the gulf since April 20. Tony Hayward, chief executive of oil giant BP, which leased the rig, last week cast doubts on the scientific reports, saying the company had found no evidence of large underwater plumes.

For an explanation on how underwater oil can damage deep-sea life, read Times staff writers Bettina Boxall’s and Alana Semuel’s report here.

-- Margot Roosevelt

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

PHOTO: An undated image shows a shallow-water coral reef and a gray angelfish swimming amongst soft corals in the Florida Keys. Despite BP siphoning some of the oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, worries escalated as the ooze reached a major ocean current that could carry it through the Florida Keys and up the East Coast. (AP Photo/NOAA)

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