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Study by Haverford College professor reveals unprecedented impact of Deepwater Horizon on deep ocean
Date:3/26/2012

Administration's Ocean Exploration and Research program. Using the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason II, the team examined nine sites at distances greater than 20 km from the Macondo Well and found deep-water coral communities unharmed. However, when the ROV explored another area 11 km to the SW of the spill site, the team was surprised to discover numerous coral communities covered in a brown flocculent material and showing signs of tissue damage.

"We discovered the site during the last dive of the three-week cruise," says Fisher, a biologist and the chief scientist of this mission. "As soon as the ROV got close enough to the community for the corals to come into clear view it was clear to me that something was wrong at this site. I think it was too much white and brown, and not enough color on the corals and brittle stars. Once we were close enough to zoom in on a few colonies, there was no doubt that this was something I had not seen anywhere else in the Gulf: an abundance of stressed corals, showing clear signs of a recent impact. This is exactly what we had been on the lookout for during all dives, but hoping not to see anywhere. "

These coral communities were at a depth of 4300 feet deep in close proximity to the Macondo well, which had been capped three months previously after spilling an estimated 160 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. The timing and unprecedented nature of this observation suggested that the visual damage resulted from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The team was determined to find answers. And on December 8, barely a month after returning from sea, the scientists set out on a second cruise to the Gulf. It is rare for researchers to get the opportunity to return to a site so quickly. Making that trip and the subsequent study possible was funding from the National Science Foundation's RAPID Collaborative Research grant program, which aids scientists seeking to respond quickly to urgent issues such as
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Contact: Eils Lotozo
elotozo@haverford.edu
610-795-6235
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Source:Eurekalert

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