Scientists aboard a research vessel say they have found oil plumes as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick deep beneath the surface. One scientist said oil eating bacteria and possibly chemical dispersants applied at the leak source by BP make the plumes the consistency of salad dressing.
“There’s a shocking amount of oil in the deep water, relative to what you see in the surface water,” said Samantha Joye, a researcher at the University of Georgia, told the New York Times.
Scientists fear the plumes which choke oxygen from the water might eventually reach the stage of killing fish and plant life on the Gulf floor. Joye said that might take several months if the leak is not capped. "Oxygen levels near the source 5,000 feet below the surface have dropped 30%. "That is alarming," she told the Times.
There is a controversy between the government and BP who say the leak is gushing about 5,000 barrels of gas and crude oil daily and other scientists who estimate the spill at the rate of 50,000 to 80,000 bpd.
Scientists working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the underwater plumes may explain the discrepancy in estimates of the leak which erupted April 20 at an oil platform operated by
Deepwater Horizons and leased to BP, formerly British Petroleum.
BP executives in Robert, Louisiana, on Saturday said applying chemical dispersants at the leak source was resumed after gaining approval of the Environmental Protection Agency. This procedure at those depths have never been tried before and the effects are unknown.
One scientist aboard the research vessel Pelican said the plumes ranged from the shallowest depth of 2,300 feet to the deepest at 4,200 feet. He said samples of oxygen were taken in clear waters for comparison to those obtained from the plumes to judge the impact on the chemistry and biology of the Gulf waters.