Oceana deploys a pioneer system to detect microscopic particles of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico

Hundreds of sensors placed between the surface and a depth of 2,000 meters will determine the presence and concentration of toxic hydrocarbons near the Deepwater Horizon platform

Press Release Date: September 8, 2010

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

Oceana, an international marine conservation organization, has placed a series of stations for measuring toxic hydrocarbon pollution around the BP Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. This pioneering project will make it possible to detect the toxic fraction of petroleum hydrocarbons dissolved into the waters that surround the damaged rig. It will also evaluate the plume of hydrocarbons that was detected last June and announced two weeks ago heading away from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead toward the southwest at a depth of hundreds of meters.

The group of scientists participating in the expedition, led by oceanographer Xavier Pastor aboard the Oceana Latitude, has invested two weeks in installing and recovering the measuring system. The project was designed by oil pollution specialist Dr. Jeffrey Short, one of the United States Government’s researchers who tracked the effects of the Exxon Valdez spill when he was part of NOAA. He was also on the scene in Galicia to study the evolution of the situation produced by the catastrophe brought on by the Prestige.

Now, from his position as Oceana’s Pacific Scientific Director, he is working to prevent new offshore oil operations in Alaska from starting up. Short explains that “no other group has used the very sensitive system of sensors like Oceana’s despite the fact that the use of dispersants has fragmented the crude particles to make them invisible. When the measurements are analyzed, we will obtain reliable data on the extent and intensity of the area’s true pollution.  We believe this study will go a long way towards answering questions about how long the toxic components of oil will last in the deep waters of the Gulf, and whether their concentrations are great enough to cause adverse effects on biota”.

Oceana’s group of researchers aboard the Latitude has installed hundreds of vertical measuring sensors at sixteen points on the Gulf. They range from the surface down to a depth of two thousand meters, distributed at a depth of every 100 meters. After a four-day interval to allow the sensors to absorb dissolved hydrocarbons, the ship’s crew retrieved the sensors for chemical analysis. The results from these analyses will make it possible to determine the levels of pollution from toxic hydrocarbons in the area that the BP rig occupied; and also in other areas of the Gulf to the southwest.

According to Xavier Pastor, Director of Oceana for Europe and in charge of this expedition, ”the research carried out by the team led by my colleagues, Jeffrey Short and Susan Murray, is one of the most important and ambitious projects of the ones included in  Oceana’s expedition to the Gulf of Mexico. The campaign began at the beginning of August and will last two months. These measurements will be supplemented with the dives at different areas of the Gulf by Oceana divers and the use of two submarine robots that can reach depths of 300 and 700 meters respectively”.

 2010 Gulf of Mexico Expedition, Xavier Pastor’s Blog and Onboard log

Oceana has photographs and video of the expedition