Huge oil plumes create massive swath of destruction
Enormous plumes of oil are killing billions of organisms, rippling throughout the entire Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystem.
Tue, Jun 01, 2010 at 01:13 PM
Photo: NOAA's National Ocean Service
The BP Deepwater Horizon well blowout has created vast plumes of oil behaving unlike any other oil spill in modern times. As NOAA attempts to track the oil spill, all life is suffocated upon contact.
The plumes of oil are rising from the seabed 1 mile beneath the surface and in some cases are sinking, but just how far or wide remains unclear.
The natural microbes, which begin to attack and break down the oil spill, are presenting another difficulty for all life in the sea. That is, these microbes need oxygen and lots of it to break apart the oil slicks. At first about 30 percent of the oxygen in the water is sucked out and then as the decomposition process proceeds, more oxygen is withdrawn.
When the oil comes in contact with any plant or animal life, the organism dies of suffocation. The oil-eating microbes add another stress to this ecological disaster by stripping the water of oxygen, as most life within the sea requires oxygen to not only live but also to reproduce.
Scientists agree that every fish and shellfish in contact with the oil is probably dead. We are now on day 42 of the spill, and billions of organisms have perished. The longer this spill continues, the more likelihood that this number will turn into trillions of dead organisms.
The Gulf of Mexico is vast, spanning 600,000 square miles and reaching more than 14,000 feet at its deepest point.
Life at the bottom lives in darkness and at near freezing temperatures. Researchers are rarely allowed to venture into this world. Scientists are concerned about the effects of the oil spill because what’s happening with these plumes will have an enormous ripple across the entire Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, especially for deep-sea life.
Each night, life that lives in the deep migrates to shallow water to feed and in turn be eaten by other forms of life. It's the largest migration on Earth.
Red snapper, shrimp and menhaden are a backbone of the Gulf Coast fishing industry. Marlin, cobia and yellow fin tuna sit on top of the food chain and are the mainstay of the charter fishing fleets. All these fish are at risk because of the oil spill.
Many fish species in the Gulf of Mexico are now in their annual spawning season. Eggs exposed to the oil will die. Those that survive will likely starve because the plankton at the base of the food chain has been killed by the oil spill.
Bigger fish are more resilient but they are not immune to the toxic effects of oil, and as the oxygen-depleted zone expands, these critters will run the risk of asphyxiation.
Newly discovered species
Two new species of bottom-dwelling pancake batfish species were recently discovered off Louisiana's coastline. They were originally sighted near the Deepwater Horizon well. There very existence is now in question.
More than 910,000 gallons of Corexit dispersant have been dumped into the Gulf of Mexico, creating a new toxic froth, spreading polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — known cancer-causing agents of oil — far and wide, some of it is now in the Loop Current headed toward Florida and the third largest coral reefs on the planet. Corexit is known to kill coral reefs and retard any new regrowth.
Tracking the oil is even more challenging because at different depths, the Gulf currents pull in different directions and at varying speeds. NOAA is monitoring the spill, and on any given day the oil is moving in dozens of different directions. Tracking the oil dispersant is even more difficult.
Meanwhile, a huge plume of oil is headed toward Alabama's continental shelf and fish and all other forms of plant and animal life are in harm's way.