August 19, 2010
The 1.2-mile-wide, 650-foot-high plume of trapped hydrocarbons provides a clue on where all the oil has gone as oil slicks on the surface disappear.
"These results indicate that efforts to book keep where the oil went must now include this plume," said Christopher Reddy, a WHOI marine geochemist and oil spill expert and one of the authors of the study, in a statement.
NASA's Terra satellite captured a visible satellite image of the Gulf oil spill on May 17 at 16:40 UTC (12:40 p.m. EDT) from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Instrument on-board. The oil slick appears as a dull gray on the water's surface and stretches south from the Mississippi Delta with what looks like a tail. Text Credit: NASA Goddard / Rob Gutro
"“We've shown conclusively not only that a plume exists, but also defined its origin and near-field structure," said WHOI's Richard Camilli, leader of the research expedition and lead author of the paper. "Until now, these have been treated as a theoretical matter in the literature."
The scientists found that the plume is degrading "relatively slowly" meaning that it "will persist for some time," according to the press statement.
"Many people speculated that subsurface oil droplets were being easily biodegraded," said Camilli. "Well, we didn’t find that. We found it was still there."
The spill, which started after a well blowout on April 20, 2010, is estimated by the government at 4.9 million barrels, the largest in U.S. history.