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Chemical make-up of Gulf of Mexico plume determined
Date:8/14/2011

Taking another major step in sleuthing the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a research team led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) determined what chemicals were contained in a deep, hydrocarbon-containing plume.

The plume was at least 22 miles long.

The scientists mapped and sampled it last summer in the Gulf of Mexico; it was a residue of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The researchers took a major step in explaining why some chemicals, but not others, made their way into the plume, they report this week in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the project through three Rapid Response Research grants, which enable support for fast-response research tied to events such as the Gulf oil spill.

"By any measure, this is a remarkable study," says Don Rice, director of NSF's chemical oceanography program. "Reddy and colleagues add several critical tiles to the growing Deepwater Horizon mosaic. We now have hints of why some earlier studies appear to refute one another.

"Most importantly," says Rice, "we now have a far better understanding of how and why an oil 'spill' into the ocean from below differs from one from above. The significance of this work extends well beyond the Gulf of Mexico."

It "helps explain and sheds light on the plume formation, and verifies much of what we thought about the plume's composition," said WHOI chemist Christopher Reddy, lead author of the study.

The data "provide compelling evidence" that the oil component of the plume sampled in June 2010 essentially comprised benzene, toluene, ethybenzene, and total xylenes--together, called BTEX--at concentrations of about 70 micrograms per liter, the researchers reported.

The BTEX concentrations in the plume were "significantly higher than background," Reddy said. "We don't know with certainty the
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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