the circuitous path of tracking those undersea oil plumes

(4PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

Gulf oil plume darker; not good news, expert says

By SETH BORENSTEIN — May 25, 2010

The color of the oil gushing from the main pipe has changed in color from medium gray to black. Two scientists noticed the change, which oil company BP downplayed as a natural fluctuation that is not likely permanent.

But engineering professor Bob Bea at the University of California at Berkeley says the color change may indicate the BP leak has hit a reservoir of more oil and less gas. Gas is less polluting because it evaporates.

Bea has spent more than 55 years working and studying oil rigs.

Sounds serious.

Too bad we can’t get any submarines down there to start tracking all that Oil, which scientists previously reported, looked to be spreading far and wide, at the mid-levels of the Gulf waters.

Luckily, the Scientist behind the first effort to track the underwater oil plumes, is mounting a second effort, with some new sciencey gadgets …

Oh those Scientists, and their expensive toys … I wonder if NOAA will let Dr. Asper, rent “the Alvin” next?

Unmanned robot to troll Gulf oil spill for data

by Martin LaMonica — May 25, 2010

The Seaglider can go up to 1,000 meters below the surface and operate for up to 10 months, while sending data via satellite several times a day. It’s driven through the water by changes in water buoyancy rather than a propeller.


Researchers plan to use the device to find and monitor the clouds of dispersed oil droplets deep underwater.

“It is important to track any hydrocarbons that might remain at depths for extended periods of time,” said Dr. Vernon Asper, of the marine science department from the University of Southern Mississippi, in a statement. “Previous data suggests that there may be some of this material at depths below 700 meters and that it appears to be moving.”

Dr. Vernon Asper seems to be on the trail, of “something” … doesn’t he?  I like the way, he is now “qualifying his language” …

Oceanographer with Midstate Roots Researching Oil Spill

Andy Briggs — 05/24/10

Dr. Asper’s focus is the oil that’s still out in the Gulf.

We’re out in deep water looking at the oil out there,” he told abc27 News by telephone. “We’re looking at it on the surface. We’re looking at it way down below the surface. We have some really cool gadgets that we use to study the oil. We’re trying to figure out right now exactly what those things are telling us.”

Asper and the team just spent two weeks on a research ship near the spill. He believes there are huge plumes of oil deep beneath the surface.

This signal that we’re detecting goes 10 or 15 miles in one direction,” Asper said. “The thing about these plumes that’s different than a surface plume is they are three dimensional. If you were in a submarine looking out the window, you wouldn’t see black oil in the water. You would see a mist of particles.”

I’m surprised Dr. Asper got the “green light” to continue the monitoring efforts,

when the NIUST Team he was on, was given the “red light” only about a week ago, to quit talking to the media “prematurely” about what they have initially found … under the water’s surface:

BP & Feds Still Limiting Independent Researchers Access to Oil Spill

May 20, 2010

NOAA director Jane Lubchenco on Monday decried media reports about plumes of underwater oil as “misleading, premature and, in some cases, inaccurate.”

Lubchenco implicitly criticized scientists on the Pelican, a research vessel operated by the NOAA-affiliated National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology (NIUST), for being hasty in its pronouncements to the media.

No definitive conclusions have been reached by this research team about the composition of the undersea layers they discovered,” Lubchenco said in her statement. “Characterization of these layers will require analysis of samples and calibration of key instruments. The hypothesis that the layers consist of oil remains to be verified.”

OK, I’m all for verification and definitive conclusions, but given their initial observations, it’s hard to imagine what the NIUST’s underwater research vehicle, the Pelican, actually saw — if it wasn’t “plumes of underwater oil”.  

Maybe it was “a 10 or 15 mile” long school of jellyfish?

Hasn’t NOAA heard of “Occam’s Razor” ?  

Or perhaps, they simply don’t want to “panic” anyone, about the extent of the Oil damage, unnecessarily.

The way I read the sequence of events, NOAA was extremely lucky to have that NIUST Team in place with their monitoring ship in the first place, when and where they were needed when the initial BP Disaster struck …  but hey that’s just me …

Oil cruise finds deep-sea plume

Nature reports from the research ship Pelican as scientists map the hidden extent of the Deepwater disaster.

Nature  465, 274-275 (2010)

Mark Schrope — May 18, 2010

The first oceanographic research expedition into the Deepwater Horizon oil-spill zone has uncovered evidence that a deep-sea plume – probably made of oil, and not visible on the surface – seems to be spreading from the ruptured wellhead.


The team that found the plume is from the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology (NIUST), a cooperative effort between the University of Mississippi in Oxford and the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Silver Spring, Maryland. The researchers had originally been scheduled to map sea-floor formations in the Gulf of Mexico, just 15 kilometers from the Deepwater Horizon platform, and to survey historically significant shipwrecks using autonomous underwater vehicles launched from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium’s 35-meter-long research vessel, Pelican.

But when the oil-well blowout happened, just days before the ship was scheduled to depart, team leaders decided that the group should divert to oil studies and set about getting approval from NOAA, which is funding the expedition through a competitively awarded grant.


The team spent much of the remaining time at sea mapping the boundaries of a plume that extends about 45 kilometres southwest from the wellhead and roughly 10 kilometres wide at depths of 1,000-1,400 metres. On returning to previously sampled sites, the team showed that the plume was shifting, but that it generally remained at least 100 meters above the sea floor.

So much for keeping the world informed about those fortuitous NIUST findings —

as The Team’s daily post of findings, on their blog, abruptly go cold, on May 15th,

without explanation, without verification, and without conclusions.

Maybe those scientists went on vacation, maybe they went back to their ‘Day Jobs’, or maybe they ‘got the word’, from their grant providers [NOAA] to cease and desist, with their “misleading, premature and, inaccurate” public disclosures.

Maybe NOAA director Jane Lubchenco, has some sort of ‘Oil Info Clearinghouse‘ in mind, instead?    Wait a second, I think this must NOAA’s official site, Deepwater Horizon Incident.  Stay tuned for Underwater Plume Updates there …

Perhaps NIUST last blog entry, will one day be “finalized” there, too?

NIUST Blog Home

SITREP for May 15, 2010    [their last post]

Written by Arne Diercks and Vernon Asper

The revised goals of the cruise, once our AUV plans were abandoned, were the acquisition of baseline samples of surface sediment at several sites near the accident site for comparison with later samples, and the determination of whether or not the oil was sinking and, if so, how long it might be before it reached the seafloor.  The CDOM (Colored, Dissolved, Organic Matter) fluorometer that we bought for the latter purpose worked very well and we are confident that we detected oil not only below the surface but in deep layers that are apparently advecting towards the southwest.

Our activities today include acquiring more CTDs to complete our oil plume mapping work, and a very long (7 hours, 30+ miles) transect with the Acrobat and fluorometer.  All of this went well, in spite of the rather poor weather and rough seas. Of interest in this transect was the observation of several layers of water near the surface that exhibited higher salinities than the water above them and was apparently devoid of CDOM.  These pockets of water were of a very limited lateral extent and we look forward to making a detailed analysis of their origin and possible impact on the degradation of the oil. From here, we will steam towards Cocodrie with an anticipated 06:00 arrival, after which we will offload the equipment, disperse the samples and return to our offices.  This has been an exciting and challenging cruise and, while we are proud of the contribution we have made toward understanding the fate of the spilled oil, we hope that this first trip to the site is not our last


The National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology (NIUST) was established in 2002 by the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Mississippi in partnership with NOAA’s Undersea Research Program (NURP) to develop and apply new technologies that enhance undersea research.

Nice chatting with ya.  Way to leave us hanging …

Just a few weeks earlier NOAA Officials were looking forward to, what the research vessel Pelican, would find out about the ongoing gushers.  Later, however, were not too happy about NIUST initial reports to the press?

But initially the NOAA was behind the mission …

NOAA Ocean Science Mission Changes Course to Collect Seafloor and Water Column Oil Spill Data

NOAA News — May 6, 2010

A NOAA-sponsored ocean mission, set to explore for deep-sea corals, has been redirected to collect seafloor and water column data from areas near the Gulf of Mexico oil spill source.


The university fleet research vessel Pelican, operated by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, departed Cocodrie, La., late Tuesday and arrived at the spill source on Wednesday. They will return on Sunday for more supplies and go back to the site later that week.

The ship had been outfitted and ready to support a different NOAA-funded mission, but it was scrubbed in favor of gathering timely and much-needed data close to the oil spill source.

“This sampling mission is one of many NOAA responses to the oil spill,” acting NOAA assistant administrator for NOAA Research Craig McLean said. “It fills an important gap in researching the interaction of spilled oil and the ocean environment. The samples will help us better understand affected ocean resources.” While on the topic of oil sampling, a few benefits of this include understanding the health of the oil (to prevent contamination), less downtime, longer-lasting equipment and also saving money on machinery. Doing some research into sites like MT Mechelec may help many people get a better understanding of the importance of oil sampling.

Well I guess you can’t stop the March of Science (nor the Need for it, either.)

and you can’t stop the March of an Oil Gusher either, unless you’re lucky

(unless you have a lucky streak of 6 out of 10 odds, against the House.)

BP internal probe focuses on other companies’ work

May 25, 2010

Live underwater video showed the underwater plume getting significantly darker Tuesday, the color changing from medium gray to black. Two scientists noticed the change, which BP downplayed as a natural fluctuation that is not likely permanent.

But engineering professor Bob Bea at the University of California at Berkeley said the color change may indicate the leak has hit a reservoir of more oil and less gas. Gas is less polluting because it evaporates.


Meanwhile, scientists warned of the effects of the oil that has already leaked into the Gulf. Researchers said miles-long underwater plumes of oil discovered in recent days could poison and suffocate sea life across the food chain, with damage that could endure for a decade or more.

Researchers have found more underwater plumes of oil than they can count from the well, said Samantha Joye, a professor of marine sciences at the University of Georgia.

The hazards of the plume are twofold. Joye said the oil itself can prove toxic to fish, while vast amounts of oxygen are also being sucked from the water by microbes that eat oil. Dispersants used to fight the oil are also food for the microbes, speeding up the oxygen depletion.

“So, first you have oily water that may be toxic to certain organisms and also the oxygen issue, so there are two problems here,” said Joye, who’s working with the scientists who discovered the plumes in a recent boat expedition. “This can interrupt the food chain at the lowest level, and will trickle up and certainly impact organisms higher. Whales, dolphins and tuna all depend on lower depths to survive.”

The consequences and hazards of several underwater plumes of oil, sound kind of serious.

Certainly we should try to monitor the extent and location of those 3-D toxic blobs, as they begin their ‘world travels’.

Whether or not, anyone has conclusively determined if it’s BP Blob(s) or not.  (What happens, if it turns out, they were BP’s afterall ?)

How many multi-mile, mid-level ocean, Oil Blobs, are roaming around out there anyways, if they aren’t from BP’s Gushers?

We may, have bigger problems than we realize,

IF those “Blobs of Unknown Origin” — DON’T Belong to BP !

But then after all, we wouldn’t want to ‘Jump to any Conclusions’ now, would we?

I for one will be anxious to see Dr. Vernon Asper, observations, findings, and conclusions — as they stand to date — and what they will eventually amount to.

Hey, maybe he could keep his colleagues (and us) informed on some sort of public website?

Oh wait for nevermind … already tried that once.  It didn’t go so well.

I guess we’ll have to wait, for the Science Journal articles, to come out, instead … Go Figure!



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    • jamess on May 26, 2010 at 13:02

    Larger image

    National Academy of Sciences: Deep Water Plume Study (pdf)

    Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects

    Plume phase

    Once the plume sheds some of its heavier components, it may re-form as the plume ceases to rise, and “mushrooms.”

    This process can occur numerous times (known as peeling).

    Turn to the Scientists — They get it

    Scientists: Underwater plume of oil headed out to sea

    by Rick Jarvis, USA Today — 05/17/2010

    In the first on-site measurements of the oil spreading below the surface, researchers found the plume of crude stretches 15 to 20 miles southwest from the site of the damaged wellhead and is about 5 miles wide, said Vernon Asper, a University of Southern Mississippi marine scientist leading the research.

    The plume is compact, much thicker than the lighter remnants reaching the surface and suspended in about 3,000 feet of ocean, he said. A deepwater current is dragging it out to sea. The underwater oil cloud is not connected to the surface slick – now the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

    That’s kind why Doctors, use X-rays and such, I guess, to see “what’s hard to see” from the surface.

    • jamess on May 26, 2010 at 14:54
      Author… (pdf)

    Nice focus on the “sheens” —

    looks like it’s under control, eh.

  1. to hide the oil on the surface.  

    Here’s the latest sat image from today (the 26th)

    Since they started doing that, it has become harder and harder to see the oil with the naked eye, when it’s in deep water.

    So, the problem is more hidden.

    Also, where are the toxic dispersants themselves?  Are they on the surface?  Are they killing at the bottom?  

  2. Here is a NASA view (of today, May 27):

    ~~~~~~ and I posted this elsewhere, but I wanted you to see it, jamess (albeit, quickly put together).

    Today, on the Ed Schultz radio program, two different callers called in, and what they said could not be scarier (I’m trying to find some information on it, but nothing yet).  Each said there is considerable reason to believe that the riser has another leak in it much deeper down.  A plume was found some 6 miles away from the site a very deep level, and there is evidence of oil (or oil plumes on the ocean floor.  I can’t think of anything more frightening if that is the case.  (If there is such a leak, I fear that the effort to “cap” the gush may have been the cause [I thought of that on May 6, as they were contemplating the “cap”], and believe me I have no technological savvy, because of the obvious pressure with which the oil was gushing from the riser.

    One of the callers that pointed out this “new discovery” also made a very good comment about this latest effort of BP.  He said it’s not such a good idea, because the effort could be forgotten about for years on end and then suddenly, because of deterioration of the “fix,” etc., erupt anew.  That makes sense!  His idea was to use these “slinky” like gizmos that are covered with some kind of absorbing material, connect as many as needed together and go down (he was not clear on how you would guide the gizmo down — into the riser?) to the leak area (5,000 feet) and siphon out the rest of the oil until it’s gone and use filtering equipment to separate the water back into the ocean and get the oil onto tankers, or whatever.  Kevin Costner has such machines developed for just that purpose — we’re just hearing much about it or why they’re not yet in use.  I’m not sure what the remedy is.  But I think it is a little unsettling to fill this riser up with mud and have it sit for years.

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