Massive New Underwater Oil Plume Found In the Gulf

Thursday, May 27, 2010
By Paul Martin

Scientists find evidence of large underwater oil plume in gulf

By David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post.com
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Scientists have found evidence of a large underwater “plume” of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, adding to fears that much of the BP oil spill’s impact is hidden beneath the surface.

The scientists, aboard a University of South Florida research vessel, found an area of dissolved oil that is about six miles wide, and extends from the surface down to a depth of about 3,200 feet, said Professor David Hollander.

Hollander said that he believed the plume might have stretched more than 20 miles from the site of a leak on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank April 22. It has not yet reached Florida.

The plume is clear, with the oil entirely dissolved.

“Here is a situation where, unless you’re looking at the chemical fingerprints, [the oil] is absolutely not visible,” Hollander said. “It’s not some Italian vinaigrette or anything like that. It’s absolutely, perfectly clear.”

But, Hollander said, even this clear-looking water could contain enough oil to be toxic to small animals at the base of the gulf food chain. He said he was also worried that the oil contains traces of “dispersants,” soap-like chemicals sprayed into the oil to break it up.

“You don’t want to put soap into a fish tank,” Hollander said.

This discovery seems to confirm the fears of some scientists that — because of the depth of the leak and the heavy use of chemical “dispersants” — this spill was behaving differently than others. Instead of floating on top of the water, it may be moving beneath it.

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