This time of year, the Gulf of Mexico experiences frequent and sometimes severe storms. Over the past few days, the wind has been blowing 20 knots steadily, with gusts up to 30 knots. The seas are up and we’ve been bounced around a lot.
Previous Cruise Blogs
The R/V Oceanus will depart Gulfport at 12AM on August 21. The science party consists of microbiologists, isotope geochemists, chemical ecologists, physical oceanographers, geologists, and biogeochemists from the University of Georgia (UGA), Georgia Institute of Technology, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), the University of California Santa Barbara, the University of Maryland, and the University of Southern Mississippi. We'll be conducting joint operations with the R/V Cape Hatteras, which will house scientists from the University of Texas, UGA, and LDEO.
The Deepwater Horizon wellhead that tapped the Macondo reservoir was capped on 15 July 2010. After the venting of oil and gas into the Gulf waters was stopped, everyone felt a sense of relief. Multiple news outlets have reported that the surface oil has disappeared, for the most part. I read many reports that stated conclusively the oil had been either transferred to the atmosphere (via evaporation) or that it had been consumed by oil-eating microorganisms. Everyone’s reaction was, not surprisingly, ‘what a relief !!’. Should we be relieved? Is this disaster over?
The gulfblog is back. Sorry it took me so long to do this update. The past couple of weeks have been the busiest and most demanding of my career. Everyone in the lab has been working feverishly to complete the analyses of samples collected on the Pelican and Walton Smith cruises. Those data sets are almost complete and I am now working to complete two manuscripts that I hope will be submitted by the end of June. Below I answer some of the questions that came in to the blog over the past two weeks. At the end, I talk about what our next research steps will be.
The plume was hiding. We anticipated that the flow trajectory of the oil and gas discharging from the leaking riser pipe would change after the pipe was cut but it was tough to predict which way the flow would go. We had a day and a half of ops remaining and our goal was to find the plume, revisit several stations to see how they had changed over time, and sample two control sites well away from the plume.
Yesterday and half of today, we were unable to conduct science operations because of a jammed gear in the clutch in one of the engines. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the ship’s crew to repair the problem quickly, we are back in business. We are almost back to the spill site, where we are anxious to re-occupy the four stations nearest to the leaking well. We probably can’t get very close (perhaps within a mile) tonight as BP is trying to cap the cut off riser pipe. Tonight, we’ll get within a mile or so.
Happy Memorial Day. Today we’ve been trying to trace the deepwater plume as close as possible to the leaking wellhead. Finally, after about 14 hours of searching and 5 unsuccessful CTD casts, we closed in on the source of the plume. After a very long day, we finally have this feature well constrained. We found more visible oil in the deepwater today – at different sites from yesterday – which increases our confidence in this finding.
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.