masive-oil-plume-confirmed-

masive-oil-plume-confirmed-

A plume or not a plume? That was the question for scientists, oil company employees and government officials in the early days of the oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s Macondo 252 well.

“Most oil accumulates on the surface, historically,” noted marine biologist Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at a press conference on May 12. After all, many of the hydrocarbons in oil are less dense than water and therefore should quickly rise to the surface. “Subsurface oil is a unique feature of this spill,” Lubchenco said, a feature that government officials occasionally seemed to downplay.

NOAA and partners “have been doing extensive testing for subsurface oil to see if it’s there and, if so, what concentrations and where,” Lubchenco added at a July 22 press briefing. “What we’re finding is that there is subsurface oil right near the vicinity of the well head, and as one goes farther away from the well head the oil is highly dispersed,” in concentrations ranging from four to seven parts per million between 1,000 and 1,300 meters down. On August 18, she added, “The oil that is subsurface is highly dispersed, it’s in parts per million in the water column, and it appears to be biodegrading relatively quickly.”

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