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Gulf oil spill: Undersea oil 'clouds' confirmed in spill zone [Updated]

Scientists on a federal research vessel said Tuesday morning that they have confirmed a sub-sea concentration of hydrocarbons near the Deepwater Horizon leak site. The preliminary findings suggest that the undersea oil appears and disappears in a series of cloud-like concentrations -- instead of as a steady stream of oil, or plume, as early reports from university researchers suggested.

The federal researchers aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessel Thomas Jefferson stressed that they could not conclusively say the oil is linked to the BP leak until water sample tests are completed. The initial findings were based on tests using sophisticated sound-monitoring and fluorescent scanning equipment that detects the presence of crude oil underwater.

NOAA researchers, joined by a University of New Hampshire expert and other outside scientists, detected the "clouds" of oil about 1,100 meters below the surface, 7 1/2 miles west-southwest of the Horizon leak. The clouds were dynamic -- some appeared on sensors at one point and then, later, did not register in the same location.

Separately, NOAA confirmed the existence of broad areas of sub-surface hydrocarbons as far as 142 nautical miles from the leak source, in depths from 50 meters to 1,400 meters (164 feet to 4,593 feet).

The announcement by the nation's weather and maritime science agency confirmed some of the data reported last month by University of South Florida researchers aboard the Weatherbird II research vessel. 

The three samples analyzed by the agency contained oil and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH, in very low concentrations -- .5 parts per million of oil and in the parts-per-trillion range for PAH. They came from three areas: 40 and 45 nautical miles northeast of the wellhead, and 142 nautical miles southeast of the wellhead, which has been spewing an estimated 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil a day and possibly much more, since an April 20 explosion ripped through the Deepwater Horizon drill rig, claiming 11 lives.

Some forms of PAHs, which vary in chemical structure, can be toxic and carcinogenic. The Environmental Protection Agency has listed seven PAH compounds as possible human carcinogens.

NOAA "fingerprinted" the oil spilling from the BP well and concluded that the nearest samples were consistent with the crude spilling from the site. But the agency did not confirm the more distant sample's origin.

When the University of South Florida findings were reported by media outlets, NOAA cautioned against drawing conclusions until further study."We have always known there is oil under the surface; the questions we are exploring are where is it, in what concentrations, where is it going, and what are the consequences for the health of the marine environment?" NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said in a statement.

"This research from the University of South Florida contributes to this larger, three-dimensional puzzle we are trying to solve, in partnership with academic and NOAA scientists."

The drift of undersea hydrocarbons has drawn attention as BP undertakes an unprecedented use of chemical dispersants below and atop the sea surface to break up the oil. Scientists worry that the petroleum suspended in the water column will enter the food chain, affecting sea life as tiny as plankton and as large as whales. At least a third of the federal waters of the gulf have been closed to fishing, and the federal government continues to test seafood samples.

Ed Overton, a chemist who studies toxic spills at the School of the Coast and Environment at Louisiana State University, said he was not surprised that oil concentrations were being discovered. "There's a lot of oil out there," he said. "There is a lot of dispersed oil and these plumes are spreading it."
The unprecedented amount of dispersants that have been applied to the leaking well have broken down the oil and removed it from the surface. But the chemicals also cause oil droplets to fall into the gulf's water column and ultimately spread oil more readily around the region.
What's important to measure, Overton said, is the concentration of oil in the seawater. High concentrations of sub-surface oil have the effect of depleting oxygen, killing fish, microbes and other living things. "If it's parts per million, you are looking at a dead zone," Overton said. "If it's parts per billion then it's not so bad."

Louisiana State University's labs in Baton Rouge are analyzing samples taken from the research vessel Pelican, which discovered the first mass of hydrocarbons a few weeks ago. Since then, at least two academic research cruises encountered the same phenomenon.
Most recently a team from the University of South Florida found a sub-surface layer of what appeared to be hydrocarbons trailing in a 20-mile area.
At first BP and NOAA downplayed the presence of "plumes." But the federal agency has since launched its own research ship to study deep water effects from the leak.

Roger Zimmerman, a marine biologist who directs the Galveston Laboratory, part of NOAA's Fisheries Service, told the Los Angeles Times last month that the spill is a crucial habitat for a wide web of sea life:

"It's a significant ecosystem that goes from the bottom to the top waters," Zimmerman said. "This is a rich area in terms of biological productivity and diversity of animals. There's a lot of reproduction."

For more detailed information on the environmental effects of undersea oil, click here to read the full report by Los Angeles Times reporters Bettina Boxall and Alana Semuels.

-- Jim Tankersley, reporting aboard NOAA vessel Thomas Jefferson, and Julie Cart, reporting from Baton Rouge, La.

[For the record, 1:50 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said that NOAA researchers, joined by a University of New Hampshire expert and other outside scientists, detected "clouds" of oil about 1,100 feet below the surface, 7 1/2 miles west-southwest of the Horizon leak. In fact, the "clouds" were detected 1,100 meters below the surface.]

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Dumping dirt (sand, clay and earth dirt contain large spectrum of bacteria) over the rising oil from the leaking pipe at the bottom of the gulf.
My son Sami did not finish high school; he won the trophy for the best martial art player in the province of Ontario. My son said that if he was working his car engine and his hand got dirty with oil and even if water and soap are available, my son prefers to use dirt from the ground (sand and clay) and rub his hand with the dirt. It is the best to remove oil from your hand. Why not dump load of ground dirt (soil consisting of sand and clay and earth dirt) onto the site where the oil is coming out from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. I mean 4 to 5 ship load every day. It is cheaper, Greener, and very effective. The rising crude oil will mix with the sand and dirt and settle to the bottom. It is confirmed that the under sea plumes are in anaerobic conditions ( no oxygen) , and thus this will be a heaven for anaerobic bacteria that can in the absence of oxygen eat everything’s and a good source of these bacteria comes from dirt. Later when the rising oil leak will be stopped, the mixture of sand and oil can be vacuumed from the bottom and treated accordingly.

Kick is the cause of the explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama is right when he said
"We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick". The word Kick is very scientific because the reason for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a Kick.
It is well known in the oil industry and the oil companies are well aware that:
When drilling in oil and gas-bearing formations submerged in deep water, the reservoir gas ( mainly methane) may flow into the well bore and form gas hydrates due to the low temperatures and high pressures found during deep water drilling( similar to the situation in the Deep water Horizon Oil Spill). The gas hydrates may then flow upward with drilling mud or other discharged fluids. As they rise, the pressure in the drill string decreases and the hydrates dissociate into gas and water. The rapid gas expansion ejects fluid from the well, reducing the pressure further, which leads to more hydrate dissociation and further fluid ejection. The resulting violent expulsion of fluid from the drill string is referred to as a "kick" (see. Petroleum Science volume 6: pages 57-63, 2009). This could possibly be the reason for the accidents which caused the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Thus indirectly the presiden had identified the culprit responsible for the oil spill.

Aren't Nascar vehicles powered by ethanol? Isn't ethanol made from corn? Don't think banning Nascar is going to have anything to do with off-shore deep water drilling.

The Sheeple are following Obama who isn't doing anything..other than trying to create sympathy for a few dead birds......
He will just use this an excuse to ban drilling.
Then I've heard that he will try and ban NASCAR, which will cause a Revolution of the God Fearing true Americans, while they still have their guns.
All that suppossed "Bad" oil is as Rush says, a "Natural " product of the eartth, just like water.....The tree huggers and whackos, need to let real AMericans, like Bristish Petroleum, do their jobs...............PALIN 2012!!!

Thank you, otbricki. It's always nice to hear from the BP PR department.

Stop driving- or it's Easter Island Earth

You guys are in SERIOUS need of a REALITY CHECK!!!

This report confirms no such thing as oil plumes from BP. Most of the samples could not be matched to the oil from the BP spill, and the concentrations are averaging 0.2 ppb.

And parts per trillion range for PAH? That's less than the EPA level for drinking water. NOT AN ISSUE.

Not only that - but if you calculate the amount of oil contained in a plume of this size at these concentrations you get a number around 300 gallons. THREE HUNDRED GALLONS spread over hundreds of square miles is a threat to nobody nohow. And it could be coming from anywhere. Natural seeps. Methane from oyster flatulence. You name it.

Vast plumes of oil my lily white arse.

The press has totally botched and over-sensationalized the plume story. You guys need to retract this stuff and publish a more rational account based on what is really out there, rather than jumping to all sorts of sensational what if's with no facts behind them.

"This is TERRIBLE!!! it is killing living creatures... why isn't obama doing anything about it?"

WTF can Obama do? The spill already happened. YOU can do something by weening yourself off your oil addiction (me too).

Time to nationalize the oil companies and kick out the multinationals. As long as this sector is driven by profit motive, there will never be "safe" oil exploration.

I'm horrified by all of this. I want to know who gave them the okay to drill there without a disaster plan in place for something like this. Especially since it's so far down.It's the worst disaster ever.

Obama came out with a strong "defense" yesterday saying he had been down to the Gulf a month before, even before the "talking heads" had taken up the cause.

Yes, but when he was there Obama didn't DO anything other than photo ops and commiserate. Did he demand more berms to stop oil from coming into the wetlands? Well, no. Did he demand more skimmers to pick up the oil before it made it to shore? Well, no.

What he did was give a few short speeches before returning to D.C.

That's not leadership. That is simple politicking.

This is TERRIBLE!!! it is killing living creatures... why isn't obama doing anything about it?

As lab tests have already shown, BP's chemical dispersants are making the problem worse.


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