Scientists Say Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Creating Dead Zones in Gulf

A group of scientists said yesterday that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill appears to be creating “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico that are being drained of oxygen. The discovery was announced yesterday, the same day the federal government confirmed the presence of giant plumes of oil below the ocean’s surface.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Samantha Joye, a senior marine scientist at the University of Georgia, said instrument readings had picked up levels of methane gas dissolved in deep seawater that were between 100 times and 10,000 times higher than normally found in the Gulf waters. The presence of such high levels of methane could spur the growth of microbes that will deplete the oxygen needed by other marine life.

“I’ve never seen concentrations of methane this high anywhere,” Joye, who had just competed a two-week expedition of the Gulf aboard a research vessel, said at a news conference yesterday. “The whole water column has less oxygen than it normally does.”

The samples Joye referred to were from a submerged oil plume that she said was 15 miles long, five miles wide and 300 feet thick, the Journal said.

As we reported yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has also confirmed the presence of underwater plumes, or clouds, of oil in the Gulf. Tests conducted at three sites by a University of South Florida research vessel confirmed oil as far as 3,300 feet below the surface, NOAA spokesperson Jane Lubchenco said. Subsea oil was found 42 miles northeast of the well site, about 1200 feet below the surface. The patch, which could measure up to 22 miles long and about 100 feet thick, was identified as having come from BP’s leaking well

The researchers also found a cloud about 142 miles to the southeast of the spill site. However, scientists were not able to find conclusive evidence that the deeper concentrations came from the well.

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 their existence, and it is now downplaying the significance of the phenomena. This morning, one of the company’s top executives said NOAA’s findings actually amounted to “good news” since the plumes that have been confirmed didn’t amount to large concentrations of oil below the surface.

“What NOAA talked about yesterday was very consistent with what we’ve measured and we’ve seen,” BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said earlier today on “Good Morning America.” “No one has yet found any concentration that measured higher than the parts per million. It may be how you’re defining [an oil plume.]”

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