Campus News

UGA marine scientists lead oil plume research mission; blog from the Gulf of Mexico

Athens, Ga. – A team of University of Georgia marine scientists conducting research on the huge underwater oil plume that was discovered in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion is posting information on its research mission to a blog, The blog will provide regular updates and photos throughout a two-week research mission.

The team, now on board the R/V F.G. Walton Smith, is led by Samantha Joye, UGA professor of marine sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. Joye was a member of the NOAA-supported expedition that discovered the deepwater plumes thousands of feet below the surface in the Gulf of Mexico, about two weeks ago.

The group sailed from Gulfport, Miss., on Tuesday, May 25, on a research mission to characterize and visualize the largest of the underwater oil plumes, estimated to be more than 15 miles long, 5 miles wide and some 300 feet thick at depths ranging from approximately 2,300 feet to 4,200 feet. This plume is currently located to the south/southwest of the Deepwater Horizon site.

“Nothing like these plumes has ever been seen before,” said Joye. “This is the first time such a buoyant plume has been documented in a cold, pelagic environment.” Ocean temperatures range from 8 degrees Celsius at the bottom of the plume to about 15 degrees Celsius at the top.

Scientists on the UGA-led cruise will use a suite of instrumentation that includes sophisticated sonar equipment and an in situ camera system. The team will sample water throughout the plume for chemical and microbial analyses. It will also conduct mapping surveys in a radial grid around the spill site to document whether other such plumes exist.

In addition to UGA marine scientists, the team includes researchers from University of Southern Mississippi, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and University of California-Santa Barbara.

The expedition is funded by the National Science Foundation.