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Gulf oil spill: Scientists find second oil plume

May 28, 2010 |  2:24 pm
Florida scientists just back from a research voyage in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday reported finding a layer of dissolved hydrocarbons that was at least 20 miles long, apparently confirming the ‘oil plume’ discovered by another research vessel a week ago. The team brought back water samples to determine if the material is oil from the BP leak.

Scientists suspect that the far-flung subsea oil is a result of the use of dispersants that break up oil on the surface and distribute smaller particles into the gulf’s water column.

Ernst Peebles, an associate professor of biological oceanography at the University of South Florida, said the ship's sonar detected a thick "structure" at about a quarter-mile deep, some 45 miles northeast of the leaking well. He said they found a similar layer of hydrocarbons and particulates at 1,000 meters deep, about 24 miles from the crippled well.

Peebles said the ship’s sonar had been fooled by tracking migrating masses of sea animals that came up at night to feed. But last Tuesday morning the crew woke up and found the boat surrounded by oil. “We saw a loggerhead turtle surface in the middle of it,” he said. That day the sonar showed a persistent layer of particulates so the scientists lowered an array of glass tubes to take samples.

“We have all the circumstantial evidence pointing to a layer of oil at 400 meters,” Peebles said.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration downplayed the earlier finding and on Friday announced it would launch its own research ship.

-- Julie Cart