June 10, 2010

Gulf Oil Blog, by UGA scientist Samantha Joye & colleagues

Dr. Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia testified at a congressional hearing yesterday, reporting her findings after a two week trip to the Gulf. Joye's team also recorded much of what they found, journal-style on a blog called the Gulf Oil Blog, which is a great resource, obviously. She's even answering questions (most more complicated and relevant than "when will it stop").
Joye is focusing research on the plume - yes, the one that doesn't exist - and reports that the respiration rates in the plume, based on preliminary findings, are "at least 5-10 times higher" than control sites, which means more oxygen is being used up by bioremediating microorganisms in a specific area, which could potentially create a very large dead (hypoxic) zone where very little marine life will be able to live for quite a long time.
More on the plume from Joye:
At present, oxygen concentrations exceed 2 mg/L but if concentrations drop below that, it would spell problems for any oxygen requiring organisms. The Southwest Plume is, at a minimum, 15 miles long x 2 miles long and the plume is about 600 feet thick. Temperatures in the plume are about 8-12ÂșC. We do not know the absolute oil content at this time.
The plume is largely water. This is not thick oil like you see on the surface in some places, it’s diluted oil and it’s most concentrated closest to the leaking riser pipe. Unlike a natural oil seep, which is most intense on the bottom and whose signal decreases with depth above the seafloor, the plume we are studying starts 200m above the seafloor and its intensity decreases horizontally with distance away from the leaking wellhead.
The specific gravity of oil is irrelevant to this discussion. This is not oil like you buy at the auto supply store. Think of it as gas-saturated oil that has been shot out of a deep sea cannon under intense pressure – it’s like putting olive oil in a spray can, pressurizing it and pushing the spray button. What comes out when you push that button? A mist of olive oil. This well is leaking a mist of oil that is settling out in the deep sea.
Dr. Joye also spoke at UGA earlier this week:

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