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Undersea Oil Plumes Confirmed in Gulf

June 9, 2010

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Concern grows over marine life threatened by the country's worst environmental disaster as scientists working for NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have confirmed that a wide area of undersea particulate oil has been found dozens of miles from the gushing well in the Gulf.

University of South Florida (USF) scientists on the research vessel Weatherbird II confirmed the existence of an undersea oil plume about 25 miles northeast of the blown-out British Petroleum (BP) well. They say the oil concentrations were low, in the form of dissolved hydrocarbons.

This oil still may impact marine life, however, according to USF spokeswoman Vickie Chachere.

"There has been the issue raised about whether all the oil was on the surface or not. Clearly, our scientists have now gathered evidence that there is oil below the surface of the water in the deep parts of the gulf of Mexico."

The government says the sampling was too small to definitively link the oil to the BP well. BP has questioned the existence of below-surface plumes, but the company says it is looking into it.

While a conclusive link has not yet been made between the undersea oil plumes and the BP leak, Chachere notes that circumstantial evidence exists.

"In this particular area where we drew those samples, scientists a year ago doing surveys had drawn water samples and had found no dissolved hydrocarbons in that area. So we know this is a new feature out in the Gulf."

The USF scientists say this is not a big, drifting glob of oil, but rather layers that show up on sonar with clear water between them. Much is not known about the harm they may cause, Chachere admits.

"We don't have another event, necessarily, like this that you can go back and say this is what it does to your fisheries, this is what it does to your marine life, this is the potential implications of this in terms of the environment."

USF says additional tests will be made on the water samples. Its research vessel, the Weatherbird II, is expected to return to the area around the spill soon.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - FL