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article imageExpedition examines effects of oil on the Gulf of Mexico seabed

By Jane Fazackarley     Dec 11, 2010 in Environment
Earlier this year an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon led to over 4 million barrels of oil a day leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. But what effect did the leak have on the Gulf's underwater ecosystem?
The oil leak,which took months to cap, became the worst in history. The long lasting effects of the oil spill on the ecology of the Gulf are still unknown.
Starting this week scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute(WHOI), Penn State University, Temple University and Haverford College and other organisations began an expedition aboard the RN Atlantis to see the impact the oil leak may have had on the underwater ecosystem of the Gulf.
The scientists taking part in the expedition are unsure of what they might find on the ocean bed. Reports earlier this year said that the oil had disappeared but in November researchers said there was evidence that some of it had sunk to the seabed.
There will be six dives as part of Dive and Discover expedition 13. A submarine named Alvin, which has previously been used to survey the RMS Titanic, will record what it finds and collect samples of sealife and sediment. Alvin can carry two scientists and a pilot on board and the dives will last between 6-10 hours each.
An autonomous underwater vehicle called Sentry will also be used by scientists to photograph and map the bottom of the ocean floor.
According to an update yesterday scientists have found a coral reef that was covered in a dark substance. The coral was taken from close to the Deepwater Horizon oil well but it is uncertain at the moment if this was caused by the oil spill.
Richard Harris of NPR was one of the people who took part in the dive. He says they saw a "brown haze" that covered the sea floor. Lab tests are being carried out on the samples that were collected from the seabed during the expedition.
Other research groups have previously reported finding oil on the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico.
Some scientists and government officials remain skeptical that a lot of the oil from the spill has settled on the seabed but Ian MacDonald from Florida State University said:
"At the same time, the evidence piles up, and after a while you say, 'Gee, there is oil on the bottom' "
"And, as a simple statement at the end of this cruise, I have to say, 'Gee, there is oil on the bottom,' and that's too bad.' "
The expedition started on December 6 and will continue until December 14. Regular updates can be found on the Dive and Discover website.
More about Gulf of Mexico, Oil spill, Underwater
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