NOAA Confirms Undersea Oil Plumes in Gulf of Mexico

An official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said during a briefing today that crude from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is forming undersea plumes, and moving through the Gulf of Mexico like ash from a volcano. According to Jane Lubchenco, one of the underwater oil plumes generated from the leaking well was found 142 miles from the site where the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sunk in April.

Tests conducted at three sites by a University of South Florida research vessel confirmed oil as far as 3,300 feet below the surface, Lubchenco said. Subsea oil was found 42 miles northeast of the well site and also 142 miles to the southeast. The concentrations at more shallow depths were identified as having come from BP’s leaking well. However, scientists were not able to find conclusive evidence that the deeper concentrations came from the well.

According to an NBC News report, the NOAA is now using samples from the three different sites to create an MRI-like 3-D picture to see where the subsurface oil is and where it is drifting.

Various scientists have reported the presence of undersea oil plumes in the weeks following the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. But this is the first time such plumes have been confirmed by a government agency.

All along, BP has denied that these clouds of oil existed. “The oil is on the surface. It’s very difficult for oil to stay in a column,” BP CEO Tony Hayward insisted last month. “It wants to go to the surface because of the difference in specific gravity.”

According to the Associated Press, scientists believe that oil could have become trapped in the water due to the BP’s unprecedented application of chemical dispersants, natural phenomenon, or a combination of the two.

Dr. Samantha Joye, professor of marine sciences at the University of Georgia, one of the scientists who had earlier reported undersea oil plumes, has said that the oil clouds could prove devastating to undersea life.

“There is a tremendous amount of oxygen consumption in the plumes,” she wrote on her blog, at least 5-10 times higher than elsewhere in the ocean. The high rate of oxygen depletion will starve any oxygen-breathing life in the water, she wrote.

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