Worst Damage From the BP Spill May be Done in the Deep Sea


Photo credit: NASA Godard Institute of Space Studies

The challenges presented by the BP spill that we occupy ourselves with are too often surface deep: the oiled birds, soiled coastline, out of work tour guides, and political wrangling make for immediately compelling, easily graspable narratives. Which is why I've tried throughout this ordeal to keep a focus on the damage done that most people will never see with their own eyes, things like BP's deployment of toxic dispersents that relegate the oil to the deep. And it's there in the deep -- out of sight from photojournalists, out of mind for the television news watchers -- where some of the most dire problems from the disaster may arise. Some new science on the subject gives us reason to be very, very concerned.Mother Jones' most recent cover story tackles this issue head-on, and provides a must-read story exploring the impact of the oil spill on. It was somewhat fortuitous that the story came about -- Julia Whitty was researching a story on new revelations about marine life that scientists were discovering in the deep scattering layer (DSL), a strata shrouded in perpetual dark that's robust with sea life. The new science that was revealing just how important this strata of life was came about just as the crisis in the Gulf threatened it most direly.

From the piece:

Despite an ever-expanding estimate of the volume of the spill, relatively little oil washes ashore at first, and only a small portion ever will. Instead, trapped in the deep, the oil fouls the ocean's twilight and dark zones: the mesopelagic and the bathypelagic (bathos: deep). After April 20, the dumbwaiter rising through the waters of the Gulf of Mexico will be ascending an ocean fouled with a toxic broth of oil, methane, chemical dispersants, and drilling mud. The relatively small amounts of oil washing ashore, and the relief felt when the surface oil began to dissipate, hardly account for the devastation being wrought in the dark world beyond our sight.

Whitty notes that the deep scattering layer -- the layer of the deep now expected to be among the most heavily impacted by the spill, thanks to dispersants forcing the oil down it -- is home to a vast number of keystone animals that are an integral part of the marine habitat. Turtles, dolphins, whales, and many others feed in the DSL. Creatures like this live there.

The oil and dispersents (both toxic to marine life) are on track to disrupt this very important strata, and potentially cause a ripple effect throughout the entire Gulf ecosystem. Read the full story for an engrossing, and very disturbing, portrait of the unseen problems posed by the BP spill.

More on the BP Gulf Spill
$20 Billion BP Spill Fund Finalized, But 40,000 Claims Still Ignored
The BP Gulf Oil Spill By the Numbers

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