Deepwater Horizon disaster may be worse than initially thought

Scientists estimate that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting from the Deepwater Horizon disaster may be significantly worse than initially thought.

Oil locations from April 28, 2010, to May 2, 2010

On May 15, researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi aboard the research vessel RV Pelican identified enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots.

The shallowest oil plume the group detected was at about 2,300 feet, while the deepest was near the seafloor at about 4,200 feet. Other researchers from the University of Georgia have found that the oil may occupy multiple layers “three or four or five layers deep”.

It is thought that the underwater plumes may explain why satellite images of the ocean surface have calculated a flow rate of only 5,000 barrels (210,000 US gal) a day, whereas the studies of the video of the gushing oil well have tentatively calculated that it could be flowing at a rate of 25,000 – 80,000 barrels (1,100,000 – 3,400,000 US gal) a day.

Robert Bea, who serves on a National Academy of Engineering panel on oil pipeline safety, has said, “There’s an equal amount that could be subsurface too,” and that the oil below the surface “is damn near impossible to track.”

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