BP Oil Disaster–Where is the oil?

Yesterday we reported the official estimate  that almost 5 million barrels of oil have been released into the gulf, yet, everyone seems to be asking the same question: Where did it all go?  A couple of interesting sources are available to address this quandary.

First, a Louisiana based television station took a camera and reporter out to a barrier island to investigate reports of oil beneath the sand. The beaches appeared clean, however, just walking in the sand provided hints to the trouble below as oil oozed up in the footprints, and many dead sand crabs littered the beach.

Secondly, another blog written by the University of Georgia Department of Marine Science, simply entitled “Gulf Oil Blog” also asked the question:  Where has the oil gone?  Their Aug. 1 blog posting attempts to quash rumors that the oil has just magically evaporated and/or been eaten by microorganisms. From that posting:

Should we be relieved?  Is this disaster over?

On the whole, I believe the answer to both questions is no.  It is a relief that the volume of surface oil is reduced, as this lowers the probability of oil-fouling of coastal beaches and marshes.  However, it’s likely that a great deal of oil is still out there in the Gulf of Mexico’s waters, it’s just no longer visible to us.

While some of the oil has most certainly evaporated, much of it was dispersed and this oil is still floating around, invisible to our eyes, within the ocean’s water column.   Some of the oil has probably sedimented to the seafloor, where it is also invisible to our eyes.  The fact that this oil is “invisible” makes it no less of a danger to the Gulf’s fragile ecosystems.  Quite the contrary, the danger is real and the danger is much more difficult to quantify, track and assess.

The Gulf Oil Blog also addresses the question of how to determine the long-term impacts from all of the dispersants used in this response. Although official tests have pointed to no more toxicity than oil alone (per yesterday’s EPA report), some scientists seem to be unconvinced. This Huffington Post article, originally posted on July 29 is entitled: “Scientist Find Evidence that Dispersant Mix are Making Their Way into the Food Chain“. The scientist they quote are from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory and Tulane University.

Clearly there is much to learn, and this disaster will be with us for many years to come.

Thanks again to Claire for letting me blog, Kim.

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