One of the strangest things about these deepwater plumes we’ve been tracking is that we see a strong CDOM signal but there’s been no visible oil in the deepwater. That changed today: we saw oil in the deepwater. We sampled a station about a mile south of our previous stations (you can get our position and our ship track on www.marinetraffic.com, just look for the R/V Walton Smith in the Gulf of Mexico sector) and we saw the most intense CDOM signals that we’ve seen so far. The Pelican cruise sampled near here three weeks ago but the CDOM signals
Sleep is a luxury at sea. You don’t want to miss anything so you better stay awake. We’re heading towards some new stations to the North of ground zero and will be doing a hexagonal grid around ground zero tonight in search of additional plumes.
In the meantime, I’ll answer some questions posed about the blog.
Lesson number 1: Never report that things are going smoothly at sea. After saying that yesterday, today we encountered some instrument problems and lost several hours of mapping time. Not to worry, we’re back in business now. We’ve almost constrained the new plume’s distribution. We know it’s around 10 miles long and at least 2 miles wide and that the chemistry and size of the plume vary along its length. We’ll learn even more in the coming days.
Today we saw some new things around the area. A fleet of skimmer ships was doing a surface burn to reduce the size of an oil slick. We were a couple of miles away from the burn but the large cloud of black smoke caught everyone’s eye. I’m still amazed by the ‘city of ships’ around the spill site. The rigs drilling the relief wells and the ‘siphon’ ship (large ship to the left in photo), as well as many support vessels are visible in this shot.
Earlier today, we sent the CTD down at a site where two CDOM rich layers were documented during the Pelican cruise. We did three casts and unfortunately, saw only very weak signals and had nothing to get excited about.
The Walton Smith departed Gulfport at 8PM on May 25. The science party consists of microbiologists, geologists and biogeochemists from the University of Georgia, the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), the University of California (Santa Barbara) and the University of Southern Mississippi and Justin Gillis, a journalist. Our objective is to conduct a comprehensive, interdisciplinary study of the deepwater plumes that were discovered on the Pelican cruise two weeks ago . We will be further documenting the plume's distribution as well as measuring microbial activity and a suite of geochemical constituents. We arrived at the spill site around 6AM. There's a lot of oil on the surface to the N-NE of the spill site. The smell of oil and gas is strong. I expected to see a lot of ships in the area but I was amazed by the density of ships: there are ships everywhere, as far as you can see. We began to cruise a line to the SW in search of the plume discovered on the Pelican cruise. We turned on the chirp sonar system around 8AM but the plume appears to be acoustically transparent -- or maybe it has moved? At about 9:30, we decided to do a profile with the sensors to "see" what the water column looks like.