Satellite photo taken May 24th, 2010, by NASA. Photo: NASA, CC.
This Story is Far From Over!
The bad news about the BP oil spill aren't over. Researchers have taken soil samples from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and discovered that a lot of the oil that some thought had evaporated or dissipated has actually just settled on the sea floor. Samples taken by the science vessel Oceanus show that the oil can be found for dozens of miles in all directions around the busted well location.
Photo: Samantha Joye, Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia
While there are some natural oil leaks in the Gulf, this is something on a totally different scale:
"I've collected literally hundreds of sediment cores from the Gulf of Mexico, including around this area. And I've never seen anything like this," she said in an interview via satellite phone from the boat.
Joye describes seeing layers of oily material -- in some places more than 2 inches thick -- covering the bottom of the seafloor.
"It's very fluffy and porous. And there are little tar balls in there you can see that look like microscopic cauliflower heads," she says.
It's very clearly a fresh layer. Right below it she finds much more typical seafloor mud. And in that layer, she finds recently dead shrimp, worms and other invertebrates. (source)
To be sure that this had come from the Deepwater Horizon, scientists did a "chemical fingerprint" analysis and the source was confirmed. It was indeed from the BP well.
Whole marine ecosystems could be negatively affected, but this could have a particularly big impact on species of fish that find their food on the seafloor. But as usual with problems on this scale happening in complex ecosystems, understanding the full impact will take time.
This story isn't over by any measure.
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