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Gulf oil spill: Undersea oil masses confirmed in tests

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Monday released new data from the agency’s latest research trip through the Gulf of Mexico, showing concentrations of oil below the surface at more than 3,600 feet below the surface, about 7.5 nautical miles southwest of the BP’s blown-out well.

The Thomas Jefferson research ship found evidence of depleted oxygen, a potential sign of microbes digesting oil, in the area. Acoustic and fluorometric instruments likewise indicated the presence of oil. Water samples taken on the trip have not been analyzed.

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Since the leak began April 20, attention has been focused on surface oil washing up on environmentally fragile shoreline ecosystems. But ‘plumes’ or ‘clouds’ of oil hovering in the water column below the surface, where myriad marine life eat, breed and swim, has as much or more potential to cause ecological damage to the Gulf, scientists have warned.

The first evidence of undersea concentrations of oil was revealed by University of South Florida scientists, and was subsequently confirmed by NOAA. Monday’s results generally coincide with previous data.

-- Geoff Mohan


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