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

that would mean to ocean life. This paves the way to look at any environmental effects."

The key to locating and mapping of the plume and the collection of samples from the plume was the use of the mass spectrometer TETHYS integrated into the autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry, funded by NSF.

Developed by Richard Camilli of WHOI's Deep Submergence Laboratory, the mass spectrometer is capable of identifying minute quantities of petroleum and other chemical compounds in seawater instantly.

During the June 2010 expedition, Sentry/TETHYS crisscrossed the plume boundaries continuously 19 times to help determine the trapped plume's size, shape, and composition.

This knowledge of the plume structure guided the team in collecting physical samples using a traditional oceanographic tool, a cable-lowered water sampling system that measures conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD).

The CTD also was instrumented with a TETHYS the mass spectrometer to positively identify areas containing petroleum hydrocarbons.

Guided by the Sentry/TETHYS system, the team collected about 100 samples--a painstaking and rigorous process undertaken under strict natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) protocol and supervision.

Since TETHYS is limited in its ability to analyze petroleum hydrocarbons, Reddy said, the best samples were brought back to the land-based laboratories for more sophisticated analyses, which included the help of NOAA.

The current results validated the findings reported with TETHYS, Reddy said.


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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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