Plume of oil 650ft high found in Gulf waters

Scientists have detected a large underwater "plume" of oil from the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico last April, which spilled almost 5 million barrels of oil into the sea until the leak was successfully capped last month.

The discovery of a 650ft-high plume of hydrocarbon chemicals some 22 miles long by 1.2 miles wide, and 3,000ft below the surface of the Gulf, helps to answer the question of where the oil from the disaster has gone.

Two weeks ago, the influential US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that only about 26 per cent of the oil from the spill remained in the environment. The rest had mostly evaporated or had dispersed, skimmed or burned off from from the sea surface, the NOAA scientists said.

Jane Lubchenko, head of the NOAA, said at the time that she did not believe there were any major quantities of oil still lurking as underwater slicks.

However, the latest study by the Woods Hole Institution in Massachusetts found a vast plume of hydrocarbons deep below the sea surface following a detailed survey of the area in June. They also found evidence to suggest that the underwater oil was not being rapidly degraded by marine microbes, as the NOAA scientists had predicted.

Richard Camilli, the chief scientist on the Woods Hole study published in the journal Science, said the findings were conclusive proof that an underwater plume exists and that it had been drifting slowly away from the location of the oil spill at the time the study was carried out.

The plume has shown that the oil is persisting for a longer period than some scientists would have expected, said Dr Camilli. "Many people speculated that subsurface oil droplets were being easily biodegraded. Well, we didn't find that. We found it was still there. The plume is not pure oil. But there are oil compounds in there," he added.

Water samples extracted from the depths where the oil is lying are clear and odourless, according to Christopher Reddy, a marine geochemist at Woods Hole who was part of the research team. "We don't know how toxic it is and we don't know how it formed, or why. But knowing the size, shape, depth, and heading of this plume will be vital for answering many of these questions," he said.

Benjamin Van Mooy, a principal investigator of the research team, said the finding could have significant implications. "If the oxygen data from the plume layer are telling us it isn't being rapidly consumed by microbes near the well the hydrocarbons could persist for some time. So it is possible that oil could be transported considerable distances from the well before being degraded," he said.

Dr Simon Boxall of the University of Southampton's National Oceanography Centre, who was not part of the research team, said the study suggests that 5.5 tonnes of oil per day were finding their way into the deep water column. "It is worth noting that [the Woods Hole researchers] put this input at about twice that expected from natural seeps, which input microscopic globules of oil into the deep ocean in the Gulf as a background," he said.

The amount of oil involved is not large and accounts for only a small percentage of the total oil released, Dr Boxall added.

The NOAA investigation found that the efforts to contain the spill in the Gulf, such as the direct recovery of oil as it spewed from the wellhead and dispersal with chemical sprays, accounted for about a third of the oil that leaked from the well following the explosion and fire on 20 April that killed 11 oil workers.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower