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Massive Undersea Oil Plumes Spell Trouble

What’s 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick? The largest of a set of enormous oil plumes deep in the Gulf of Mexico that suggests that leakage from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than the government and BP originally thought.

Not only does oil in the water cake marine life with a toxic black goo, it literally suffocates the ecosystem as the oil depletes oxygen in the water. — JCL

The New York Times:

Scientists are finding 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 discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given.

“There’s a shocking amount of oil in the deep water, relative to what you see in the surface water,” said Samantha Joye, a researcher at the University of Georgia who is involved in one of the first scientific missions to gather details about what is happening in the gulf. “There’s a tremendous amount of oil in multiple layers, three or four or five layers deep in the water column.”

The plumes are depleting the oxygen dissolved in the gulf, worrying scientists, who fear that the oxygen level could eventually fall so low as to kill off much of the sea life near the plumes.

Dr. Joye said the oxygen had already dropped 30 percent near some of the plumes in the month that the broken oil well had been flowing. “If you keep those kinds of rates up, you could draw the oxygen down to very low levels that are dangerous to animals in a couple of months,” she said Saturday. “That is alarming.”

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