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Well Temporarily Plugged, But Giant Underwater Plumes Remain

Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this false-color, high-resolution view of the very tip of the Mississippi River Delta. Ribbons and patches of oil that have leaked from the Deepwater Horizon well offshore are silver against the light blue color of the adjacent water. Vegetation is red. (source: NOAA Earth Observatory)

Tony Hayward, the Michael Sheen look-alike currently running BP, admitted that the situation in the Gulf of Mexico represented “an environmental catastrophe.” This contrasts earlier claims of “very, very modest” damage stemming from the underwater oil gusher.

While the “top kill” has been progressing somewhat, with drilling mud and a makeshift “junk shot” successfully stopping the oil flow for the moment, even if that solution became permanent, we’d still have the results of the previous 38 days:

Scientists have found evidence of a large underwater “plume” of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, adding to fears that much of the BP oil spill’s impact is hidden beneath the surface.

The scientists, aboard a University of South Florida research vessel, found an area of dissolved oil that is about six miles wide, and extends from the surface down to a depth of about 3,200 feet, said Professor David Hollander.

Hollander said that he believed the plume might have stretched more than 20 miles from the site of a leak on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank April 22. It has not yet reached Florida.

The plume is clear and invisible to wildlife, despite being toxic, containing both oil and possibly dispersants. Even fish not in the area of the plume can be affected by smaller fish below them in the food chain absorbing the toxic stew. And being an underwater plume, containment booms at the surface can do nothing to stop it.

President Obama visits the region today.

CommunityThe Bullpen

Well Temporarily Plugged, But Giant Underwater Plumes Remain

Tony Hayward, the Michael Sheen look-alike currently running BP, admitted that the situation in the Gulf of Mexico represented “an environmental catastrophe.” This contrasts earlier claims of “very, very modest” damage stemming from the underwater oil gusher.

While the “top kill” has been progressing somewhat, with drilling mud and a makeshift “junk shot” successfully stopping the oil flow for the moment, even if that solution became permanent, we’d still have the results of the previous 38 days:

Scientists have found evidence of a large underwater “plume” of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, adding to fears that much of the BP oil spill’s impact is hidden beneath the surface.

The scientists, aboard a University of South Florida research vessel, found an area of dissolved oil that is about six miles wide, and extends from the surface down to a depth of about 3,200 feet, said Professor David Hollander.

Hollander said that he believed the plume might have stretched more than 20 miles from the site of a leak on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank April 22. It has not yet reached Florida.

The plume is clear and invisible to wildlife, despite being toxic, containing both oil and possibly dispersants. Even fish not in the area of the plume can be affected by smaller fish below them in the food chain absorbing the toxic stew. And being an underwater plume, containment booms at the surface can do nothing to stop it.

President Obama visits the region today.

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David Dayen

David Dayen