Navigation Links
Mysterious flotsam in Gulf of Mexico came from Deepwater Horizon rig, WHOI study finds
Date:1/19/2012

Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, mysterious honeycomb material was found floating in the Gulf of Mexico and along coastal beaches. Using state-of-the-art chemical forensics and a bit of old-fashioned detective work, a research team led by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) confirmed that the flotsam were pieces of material used to maintain buoyancy of the pipe bringing up oil from the seafloor.

The researchers also affirmed that tracking debris from damaged offshore oil rigs could help forecast coastal pollution impacts in future oil spills and guide emergency response effortsmuch the way the Coast Guard has studied the speed and direction of various floating debris to guide search and rescue missions. The findings were published Jan. 19 in Environmental Research Letters.

On May 5, 2010, 15 days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, oceanographer William Graham and marine technicians from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab were working from a boat about 32 miles south of Dauphin Island, Ala., when they saw a 6-mile-long, east-west line containing more than 50 pieces of white material interspersed with sargassum weed. The porous material was uniformly embedded with black spheres about a centimeter in diameter. No oil slick was in sight, but there was a halo of oil sheen around the honeycomb clumps.

Two days later, the researchers also collected similar samples about 25 miles south of Dauphin Island. Nobody knew what the material was, with some hypothesizing at first that it could be coral or other substance made by marine plants or animals. Graham sent samples to WHOI chemist Chris Reddy, whose lab confirmed that the material was not biological. But the material's source remained unconfirmed.

In January 2011, Reddy and WHOI researcher Catherine Carmichael, lead author of the new study, collected a piece of the same unknown material of Elmer's Beach, Grand Isle, La. In April, 2011, they found several large pieces, ranging from 3 to 10 feet, of the honeycomb debris on the Chandeleur Islands off Louisiana.

Oil on all these samples was analyzed at WHOI using comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography. The technique identifies the thousands of individual chemical compounds that comprise different oils from different reservoirs. The chemistry of the oil on the debris matched that of oil sampled directly from the broken pipe from the Macondo well above the Deepwater Horizon rig.

In addition, one piece of debris from the Chandeleur Islands retained a weathered red sticker that read "Cuming" with the numbers 75-1059 below it. Reddy found a company called Cuming Corporation in Avon, Mass., which manufactures syntactic foam flotation equipment for the oil and gas industry. He e-mailed photos of the specimen to the company, and within hours, a Cuming engineer confirmed from the serial number that the foam came from a buoyancy module from Deepwater Horizon.

"We realized that the foam and the oil were released into the environment at the same time," Reddy said. "So we had a unique tracer that was independent of the oil itself to chronicle how oil and debris drifted out from the spill site."

The scientists overlaid the locations where they found honeycomb debris on May 5 and 7 with daily forecasts produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the trajectory of the spreading oil slick. NOAA used a model that incorporated currents and wind speeds, along with data from planes and satellites. On both days, the debris was about 6.2 miles ahead of the spreading slick.

The explanation, the scientists said, is the principle of leeway, a measure of how fast wind or waves push materials. The leeway for fresh oil is 3 to 3.3 percent, but the scientists suspected that "the protruding profile of the buoyant material" acted acting like a sail, allowing wind to drive it faster than and ahead of the floating oil.

In this case, the flotsam served as a harbinger for the oncoming slick, but because different materials can have different leeways, oil spill models may not accurately forecast where oiled debris will head. "Even a small deviation in leeway can, over time, results in significant differences in surface tracks because of typical wind fields," the scientists wrote.

The Coast Guard has a long history of calculating the leeway of various materials, from life jackets to bodies of various sizes and weights, to improve forecasts of where the materials would drift if a ship sank or a plane crashed into the sea. But calculating leeways has not been standard practice in oil spills.

"We never had solid data to make the case until this study," said Merv Fingas, who tracked oil spills for more than 38 years for Environment Canada, which is equivalent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"These results," the study's authors wrote, "provide insights into the fate of debris fields deriving from damaged marine materials and should be incorporated into emergency response efforts and forecasting of coastal impacts during future offshore oil spills."


'/>"/>

Contact: WHOI Media Relations
media@whoi.edu
508-289-3340
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Mysterious microbe may play important role in ocean ecology
2. Mysterious microbe plays important role in ocean ecology
3. Rooted plants move mysteriously down greenways, scientists say
4. Findings uncover new details about mysterious virus
5. Scripps scientists help decode mysterious green glow of the sea
6. Rediscovery: MBL scientists confirm role for mysterious cell component, the nucleolinus
7. Rensselaer professor uncovers mysterious workings of cholera bacteria
8. Probing the mysterious second-wave of damage in head injury patients
9. Scientists unravel the mysterious mechanics of spider silk
10. Research outlines mysterious evolution of nematodes -- one of Earth’s first animals
11. Mysterious purse-web spiders rediscovered and photographed in South Africa
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:4/19/2017)... April 19, 2017 The global ... landscape is marked by the presence of several large ... held by five major players - 3M Cogent, NEC ... accounted for nearly 61% of the global military biometric ... in the global military biometrics market boast global presence, ...
(Date:4/11/2017)... GARDENS, Fla. , April 11, 2017 /PRNewswire/ ... management and secure authentication solutions, today announced that ... by Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) to ... IARPA,s Thor program. "Innovation has been ... and IARPA,s Thor program will allow us to ...
(Date:4/5/2017)...  The Allen Institute for Cell Science today announces ... portal and dynamic digital window into the human cell. ... application of deep learning to create predictive models of ... a growing suite of powerful tools. The Allen Cell ... publicly available resources created and shared by the Allen ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:7/24/2017)... ... July 24, 2017 , ... Each year, Inavero’s Best ... proven their superior service quality as rated by hiring professionals and job candidates. ... based on service quality ratings from their placed talent. , Fewer than 2% ...
(Date:7/20/2017)... ... July 20, 2017 , ... Resoundant, Inc. is ... imaging centers around the U.S. that offer MR Elastography for liver fibrosis staging. ... needle biopsy for staging liver fibrosis assessment. , “MRE:connect was created in response ...
(Date:7/20/2017)... ... July 20, 2017 , ... VIC Technology Venture ... the company’s board of directors. This addition continues to strengthen and diversify VIC’s ... Goforth, CEO and Chairman. “He is a highly accomplished business executive with a broad ...
(Date:7/20/2017)... , ... July 20, 2017 , ... Corporate Directors Forum ... its 27th annual Director of the Year Awards. , The awards will be presented ... This annual event celebrates directors who have made significantly positive contributions in the ...
Breaking Biology Technology: