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article imageGulf oil spill troubles far from over as oil found on Gulf floor

By Stephanie Dearing     Sep 14, 2010 in Environment
The news that the oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster had dissipated brought relief for many after a tense 97 days following the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon and the oil gusher that appeared to have no end.
After nearly 100 days of uncontrolled oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, once the leak was stopped, the oil appeared to have disappeared. Within weeks of the capping of the leak came the pronouncement that an estimated 75% of the crude oil had been taken care of in a variety of ways. Reuters reported a US government representative said "The good news is that the vast majority of the oil appears to be gone."
That welcome assessment puzzled some, who thought the declaration to be a premature conclusion. Subsequent discoveries by researchers from the University of Florida and the University of Georgia have demonstrated the initial assessment was indeed premature.
Earlier this month, Dr. Samantha Joye, a professor at the University of Georgia, wrote on her blog that her team had found oil at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Joye and her team had been searching the Gulf for weeks, looking for gas and crude oil, finding nothing until recently. "... Until we sampled at a site about 20 miles offshore from Mississippi, we did not see oil along the seafloor. At that station, we saw a thin layer (couple of mm) of what looked like sedimented oil. We won’t know the oil content (or source) until we do detailed analyses after the cruise but oil has a distinct feel and this sediment felt oily. We got a glimpse of what we had expected to see.
Today, at a site about 16 nautical miles from the wellhead, we dropped the multicorer into a valley. When the instrument returned from the bottom, it contained something we had not seen before: a layer of flocculent, sedimented oil that was cm’s thick."
Joye said the oil was not from a natural seep, saying the characteristics of the oil and sediment her team found are completely different from that of a seep.
Joye's findings back up those of the University of Florida in August. Joye's findings are significant, reported NPR, because she and her team found, in spots, a layer of oil coating the bottom of the Gulf that sometimes reached two inches in thickness.
Another scientist from Louisiana State University, Dr. Gregory Stone, has warned that storms will stir the oil up to be mixed with the water again. In a University Research focus article published last week, Stone said “Storm surge, when combined with storm waves from a hurricane, could stir up this submerged oil and bring it – lots of it – onshore and into the wetlands. Even a tropical storm could result in more oil on the shoreline. And that’s a reality we need to consider and be prepared for.”
Stone also said that in a fly-over, the oil at the bottom of the Gulf could be readily seen. Stone noted the effects from the oil spill would exist in the environment for years. “This is a long term problem. It’s not simply going to go away. I was in Prince William Sound 10 years after the Exxon-Valdez event, and when I lifted up a rock, there was still residual oil beneath it. Thus, the residence time of oil in the coastal environment can be substantial, although ecosystem conditions along the northern Gulf are very different and will likely recover quicker than in Alaska.” Stone will be monitoring the oil spill effects closely.
In what may or may not be related news, WWLTV reported about a large fish kill in Louisiana.
The thousands of fish from several different species were not the only animals found dead near Plaquemines Parish, La. A baby whale and an unknown number of starfish were also found dead in the area. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have attributed the deaths of the fish to a lack of oxygen in the water, but locals have asked other government agencies to investigate. The area was one of the first to have oil wash ashore from the Deepwater Horizon well.
Independent scientists wishing to conduct studies on the effects of the oil spill in the Gulf have told the New York Times the lack of funding for such studies means independent studies will be few and far between. Researcher Dr. Harriet M. Perry, Director of the Fisheries Program at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory said “Independent research is being squeezed by federal agencies on one side and BP on the other. It’s difficult for the fishing community and the environmentalists to understand why we are not receiving the money that we need.” Researchers who are funded by either the government or BP could find their research subject to restrictions.
USA Today reported that the federal government is expected to announce Wednesday that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will guide research efforts that will attempt to pinpoint the locations of subsurface oil in the Gulf.
More about Gulf of Mexico, Oil spill, Samantha joye, Deepwater horizon, Gregory stone
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