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Univ. of South Florida Researchers Link Subsurface Clouds of Degraded Oil to BP Well

University of South Florida researchers say they have definitively connected clouds of degraded underwater oil found in the northern Gulf of Mexico to the Deepwater Horizon well (MC252) through Compound-Specific Isotope Analysis (CSIA). Biodegraded oil was found suspended at depths of 400 meters (one-quarter mile) and 1,000-to 1,400-meters (two-thirds to three-quarters of a mile) beneath the Gulf’s surface in the form of microscopic droplets.

CSIA measures the natural carbon isotopic abundance of individual organic molecules which can be used to delineate sources of a complex mixture of organic materials, such as petroleum hydrocarbons. This is a technique that is widely used in the petroleum industry.

The confirmation by USF chemical oceanographer David Hollander is the first direct scientific link established between the subsurface oil clouds (“plumes”) and the massive BP spill. Scientists had gathered circumstantial evidence to link the subsurface oil to the Deepwater Horizon well, but had lacked a definitive scientific link until now.

Hollander’s findings came after extensive rounds of testing involving water samples gathered during a 22-28 May cruise of the R/V Weatherbird II to the northern gulf, against samples of oil provided by BP in June.

What we have learned completely changes the idea of what an oil spill is. It has gone from a two-dimensional disaster to a three-dimensional catastrophe.

—David Hollander

The 400-meter layer was approximately 30 meters (100 feet) thick, and was observed 45 nautical miles north-northeast of the Deepwater Horizon site. The layer at 1,000 to 1,400 meters was observed approximately 24 nautical miles east of the Deepwater Horizon site.

Researchers were lead to the clouds after models created by USF ocean circulation expert Robert Weisberg predicted subsurface oil from the Deepwater Horizon well would move toward the north-northeast. The clouds were found near the DeSoto Canyon, a critical area that interacts with Florida’s spawning grounds.

The researchers’ preliminary findings came from water sampling using three separate technologies: an optical device that measures red backscatter; the ship’s sonar; and filtrations that trapped microscopic particles. Lab tests of these trapped particles confirmed in early June that the particles were microscopic oil droplets suspended at depth. The recent Compound-Specific Isotope Analysis further confirmed that these suspended oil droplets matched BP MC252 oil.

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration conclusively linked surface oil samples to the Deepwater Horizon well but concentrations in the subsurface samples were too small to be conclusively linked to the blownout well. Because of limited BP oil samples, USF scientists were unable to pursue further testing until the oil company turned over additional oil from the well, which occurred in late June.

The BP oil samples were obtained after a meeting between company officials and US Rep. Kathy Castor.

Researchers from across USF’s College of Marine Science are now conducting work on determining what impact the spill, the subsurface degraded oil and the heavy use of chemical dispersants may have for marine life and the Gulf’s ecology.

The R/V Bellows has recently completed a nine-day scientific mission to gather baseline water quality and food web samples from the gulf in an area that extends north of Tampa and west about 100 miles off the coast. On 6 Aug., the Weatherbird II will return to the spill zone to assess the condition of marine life, including small fish and shrimp which are key sources of food for larger fish and marine mammals.

The 22-28 May Weatherbird II research was funded by the National Marine Fisheries Service and led by biological oceanographer Ernst Peebles, chemical oceanographer David Hollander, and geological oceanographer David Naar.



I hope the return to the spill zone (on 6 Aug) will quickly "assess the condition of marine life", as this will:
1. Allow some assessment of costs/penalties for BP before it is too late. Penalties are one of the faster acting mechanisms to prevent future disasters.
2. Allow assessment of the use of dispersants. Is the reduction in surface contamination worth the increase in “plumes”?


Good points TT. BP may not have enough financial resources to pay 100% of all damages done. Would it be wise to create an emergency spill damage fund (with drillers contributions) ?


Penalties are one of the faster acting mechanisms to prevent future disasters.

That would not seem to be the case;


Yes, I believe a fund is a good idea.

But I am not sure there is reason to impose it on the drillers.

Maybe some fees leveled retroactively, based on past violations, but drillers, and workers and businesses have already been penalized unfairly by the moritorium.

I hope compassion for the people affected will prevail over politics, and that BP is made to pay for 100% of all damages done.

I think there is significant danger that BP will make some form of political contributions and then (are allowed to) transfer capital and declare bankruptcy.

I believe BP is actually worth MUCH more than the damages. ?

Are BPs shareholders/stockholders liable?

OF COURSE they are. At least as far as they should not expect protection against the value of their stock dropping.

Blame the stockholders? Maybe so, maybe no. Not the issue.

Lack of knowledge of what the company you "own" is up to is no reason you should expect protection from the vagaries of the stock market.

Liable and required to make compensation? OF COURSE.

Try telling the cop that you really did not intend harm, you just did not see the speed limit sign.
You pay a penalty, not to mention compensation if you did harm.


They forced chemicals to disperse the oil at the well one mile below the ocean surface. I believe that is what led to the plumes of oil miles from the well thousands of feet below the surface.

Those chemicals can be effective when used sparingly under the right circumstances. Injecting a million gallons of the chemical so far below the surface in a pressurized blow out stream was ill advised.


How does the above "..Liable and required to make compensation? OF COURSE.

Try telling the cop that you really did not intend harm, you just did not see the speed limit sign.
You pay a penalty, not to mention compensation if you did harm...
relate to a simple earlier this weekend approval, or at lease acceptance, of all crimes big business/GM can do and has been convicted of..
"It is not GM's job to buy mass transit, close it down, but they did."

And it is apparently not cost effective to keep it going because NO ONE did.

Very simple.

"continue the life of convicted corporate felons" also very simple.

TT | July 24, 2010 at 03:07 PM


Presumably, they injected dispersants to make the oil water soluble to disperse it to prevent/reduce damage.
It may have done this – probably, partly by creating/increasing the plumes.

It may have been ill advised, but isn’t it a bit premature to say it was?

To what "crimes big business/GM can do and has been convicted of"(your grammar) do you refer?

Oh, and please try to remember that NOT making something (like the EV1) is not a crime, if it were, every person on this planet, even visitors, would be guilty.


"A - Read the comments and links(hint): That would not seem to be the case;

Posted by: ai_vin | July 25, 2010 at 11:07 AM"

To what "crimes big business/GM can do and has been convicted of"(your grammar) do you refer?"

For reference, if you read comments: " were found guilty on the second count of conspiring to monopolize the provision of parts and supplies to their subsidiary companies. The companies were each fined $5,000, and the directors were each fined one dollar. The verdicts were upheld on appeal in 1951.[3]" ("Taken for a Ride" - listed often on GCC)

"New" or "Old" ex-cons..

as for: " NOT making something (like the EV1) is not a crime," it's an open secret that GM crushed EV1s and conspired with Chevron to bury EV NiMH patents, sue Toyota/Honda Panasonic EV-95 batteries out of production, and set EV's back a decade...

Google "GM/Chevron bury NiMH patents" and read the thousands of articles.


We will see, once they collect the subsurface plumes they can analyse how much of it is the chemicals that they used. Ill advised can be little advise as well. They just did it without a lot of thinking being done. Some desperate measures can lead to more harm than good.

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