Massive Sub-Sea Oil Plume Discovered in the Gulf

By Alex Haro

After the oil stopped spewing into the Gulf of Mexico last month, speculation began on how long it would take to clean up the massive amount of crude remaining.  Anywhere between 4.9 and 8.7 million barrels escaped at high pressure from the Macondo well. When government reports started to reveal that a lot of oil in the Gulf was proving difficult to locate, reactions were mixed—some overjoyed, some unsure how 200 million gallons of oil could be hard to find.

On August 19th, oceanographers unveiled the news that a plume of oil 22 miles long and 1.2 miles wide was floating 3000 feet below the surface in the Gulf. This confirmed doubts about government reports that 75 percent of the oil had been burned, skimmed or broken up by microbes or dispersants. According to Charles Hopkinson, a researcher at the University of Georgia who helped lead an investigation on the spill's environmental impact, the reports were widely misinterpreted. “The idea that 75 percent of the oil is gone and is of no further concern to the environment is just absolutely incorrect," Hopkinson told reporters.

In one of the most controversial schemes to get rid of the oil, chemical dispersants were used to help break up the slick, but they may have been a key contributor to the plume. Ron Kendall, director of the Institute for Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech, believes that as the oil spewed from the well, it was broken into smaller droplets, hindering it from floating to the surface.  "A lot of that oil, and the toxic constituents in the oil, have probably been dispersed into the water column, and that is what these scientific discoveries are finding out," Kendall told Popular Science.  Kendall believes most of the leaked oil remains in the environment and said it will take years to understand its impacts on wildlife.

Click here for a list of where to donate or volunteer in the clean-up efforts.