Today, the U.S. confirmed the existence of a massive underwater oil plume that was created by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Researchers on a science vessel discovered the plume, which they claim is 15 miles in width, 3 miles in length, 600 feet in depth and has a maximum concentration of 0.5 parts per million of oil. It is currently about 1,100 to 1,300 metres below the water surface at the moment.
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen had this to say: “The term ‘plume’ has been used for quite awhile, [but] I think what we are talking about are concentrations,” he said. “‘Cloud’ is a better term.”
It has been hypothesized that this is a direct implication of the massive unprecedented usage of oil dispersants by BP in the Gulf. The oil dispersants were used by BP in order to break up the oil spill on the surface into digestible clumps for micro-organisms, but it would appear that it has merely just pushed the oil down into a massive plume.
Yes, there are organisms like bacteria which naturally digest oil, but the problem is that they require oxygen to metabolize the hydrocarbons, turning large portions of the Gulf into “dead zones”–areas of the ocean without water, which kills most marine life in the region. This of course exacerbates the current environmental crisis.
In addition, the coastlines of the Gulf states are being crippled because of poor boom protection (it would appear that much of the oil is deep below the surface, and booms are barriers on the surface of the water usually) and lack of manpower–the spill is absolutely massive now, since the well is apparently leaking about 12000-25000 barrels of oil every day.
Side note: Boom tutorial, courtesy of Daily Kos:
Boom is not meant to contain or catch oil. Boom is meant to divert oil. Boom must always be at an angle to the prevailing wind-wave action or surface current. Boom, at this angle, must always be layered in a overlapped sort-of way with another string of boom. Boom must always divert oil to a catch basin or other container, from where it can be REMOVED FROM THE AREA.
There are many posts on Slashdot claiming that the spill isn’t that bad because the Gulf is massive, and oil leaks happen all the time naturally. However the problem is that this is happening at a much higher rate than background levels, and the dispersants appear to be making the situation worse.