Scientist Studying BP Oil Spill Finds Crude on Gulf of Mexico Floor

Since the BP oil spill was capped in mid-July, many have wondered where all the oil went. In mid-August, the federal government even optimistically declared that as much as three-quarters of the oil had dispersed, evaporated or otherwise disappeared. But according to a scientist who just completed a deep-water dive near the site of the disaster, some of the oil from the BP spill is still sitting on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.

During that dive in a research submarine, Samantha Joye, a scientist from the University of Georgia, was accompanied by a reporter from NPR. While the sea floor initially looked normal, Joye pointed out that the submarine they were traveling in was not actually sitting on the usual dark gray mud that forms the seafloor.

“There’s oil on the bottom,” Joye told the NPR reporter. “If you look at the camera, you can see the brown coloration.”

Half a mile below the ocean’s surface, they also observed the brown substance on coral fans and on odd formations of frozen natural gas. Such natural gas formations are home to worms that serve as a food source for crabs, according to NPR. Joye noted dark spots and legions on the crabs that she said were not normal.

According to the NPR report, Joye and other researchers can not reach conclusions about the health of the undersea ecosystem based on this one dive. But future dives are planned to help them get a handle on exactly what is happening below the ocean’s surface.

The information gleaned from this dive is only the latest to detail possible environmental impacts from the BP oil spill. Earlier this month, scientists who had been aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) ship Ronald H. Brown reported that they had discovered dead and dying coral on the sea floor during an annual expedition to study coral reefs in the northern Gulf of Mexico. That coral, found just seven miles from BP’s ruptured well, was covered by what appeared to be a brown substance. Ninety percent of 40 large corals were heavily affected and showed dead and dying parts and discoloration, according to the scientists. Another site 400 meters away from the well had a colony of stony coral similarly affected and partially covered with a similar brown substance. According to a press release issued by the team, they “observed dead and dying corals with sloughing tissue and discoloration.” The team observed no changes at most other coral locations this year.

The scientists on the Ronald H. Brown expedition did not reach any conclusions about what may be causing the problems with coral at the two sites where they were observed. They are awaiting results of test that will tell them if the brown substance seen on coral is oil, and if it is, whether it came from BP’s ruptured well.

The BP oil spill began with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men on April 20. All attempts to staunch the gusher failed, until a cap was successfully deployed over the well on July 15. By that time roughly 4.4 million barrels of oil had leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the largest offshore oil disaster in US history.

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