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Enough methane dissolves in deep, cold water (about 0.4 percent by molar volume) if that water were to rise, the gas would come out of solution and create a mist whose volume is seven times greater than pure water. The resulting eruption would quickly spread and release the whole ocean basin's worth of natural gas in great clouds. These would inevitably ignite. The amounts of gas would be enormous, and the worldwide fires and explosions would be catastrophic. Even the formation of fullerene compounds, now considered a sure sign of asteroid impacts, is plausible. Land organisms would suffer mass extinction.
Researchers, meanwhile, warned Sunday that miles-long underwater plumes of oil from the spill could poison and suffocate sea life across the food chain, with damage that could endure for a decade or more. Researchers have found more underwater plumes of oil than they can count from the blown-out well, said Samantha Joye, a professor of marine sciences at the University of Georgia. She said careful measurements taken of one plume showed it stretching for 10 miles, with a 3-mile width.
The hazardous effects of the plume are twofold. Joye said the oil itself can prove toxic to fish swimming in the sea, while vast amount of oxygen are also being sucked from the water by microbes that eat oil. Dispersants used to fight the oil are also food for the microbes, speeding up the oxygen depletion.
"So, first you have oily water that may be toxic to certain organisms and also the oxygen issue, so there are two problems here," said Joye, who's working with a group of scientists who discovered the underwater plumes in a recent boat expedition to the Gulf. "This can interrupt the food chain at the lowest level, and will trickle up and certainly impact organisms higher. Whales, dolphins and tuna all depend on lower depths to survive."
She said it could take years or even decades for the ecosystem to recover.
Another way to get oil off the surface is to use a chemical dispersing agent. These detergent-based substances cause oil to bead up into tiny droplets that can mix into the water and disperse into deeper layers. Underwater currents can then theoretically dilute the oil and its risk to the environment.
Dispersion spares surface-dwelling animals, such as birds and otters. But as oil drifts downward, it falls on fish and on the eggs that are stuck to surfaces or buried in the sediment.
To find out just how dangerous dispersed oil might be to fish, Hodson and colleagues performed a series of laboratory experiments with beakers that were meant to simulate contaminated lakes. In all of the beakers, the scientists mixed water with diesel oil, then added newly hatched trout embryos. In some beakers, the scientists added a dispersing agent. Their analyses, published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, showed that dispersants greatly increased the amount of hydrocarbons that could affect fish. In turn, that extra dose of exposure made the oil 100 times more toxic to the animals. Toxicity was measured as an elevated enzyme response in the livers of the fish.
Exposure to dispersed oil doesn't kill a lot of fish, Hodson added. Instead, it either kills eggs before they hatch or leads to damage or deformities in juvenile fish. Compared to the horrifying appearance of oil-drenched birds on beaches, it can be hard to catch the attention of the public -- or even of cleanup managers -- with such subtle and hidden health effects.
"What he's saying, and he's correct, is that it could be way more fish fingerlings or eggs that are impacted than you'd ever impact birds," Kinner said. "It kind of adds fuel to the discussion."
A BP statement said the four-inch (10-centimeter) diameter tube inserted into the 21-inch leaking pipe using undersea robots had captured "some amounts of oil and gas."
BP PLC chief operating officer Doug Suttles said Monday on NBC's "Today" that a mile-long tube was funneling a little more than 42,000 gallons of crude a day from a blown-out well into a tanker ship.
That would be about a fifth of the 210,000 gallons the company and the U.S. Coast Guard have estimated are gushing out each day, though scientists who have studied video of the leak say it could be much bigger and even BP acknowledges there's no way to know for sure how much oil there is.
From the first moments that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank last month, it has been apparent that the blooming Gulf oil spill has been an oil disaster unlike any other. But the full truth of that statement is perhaps only now beginning to become apparent.
The oil that can be seen from the surface is apparently just a fraction of the oil that has spilled into the Gulf of Mexico since April 20, according to an assessment the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology. Significant amounts of oil are spreading at various levels throughout the water column, says the report, which was posted online a week ago but first published by The New York Times Saturday.
The research, combined with other emerging data, could fundamentally alter researchers’ understanding of the oil spill. It suggests that vastly more oil than previously reported could be spilling from the wellhead and the attached riser pipe that now lies crumpled on the seafloor like a kinked and leaking garden hose.
Moreover, it suggests that serious environmental degradation could take place in the open ocean, creating massive “dead zones” where no creature can live because of the lack of oxygen in the water. The spread of oil at all levels of the Gulf also could become a concern for shore communities in hurricanes, which stir up the water column as they come ashore.
Scientists looking at video of the leak, suggest that as many as 3.4 million gallons of oil could be leaking into the Gulf every day – 16 times more than the current 210,000-gallon-a-day estimate, according to the Times.
The depth of the problem
The fact that the spill could possibly be so radically misunderstood nearly a month after it began speaks to the unique nature of this spill. In particular, its depth – 5,000 feet below the ocean surface – makes it both unprecedented and difficult to study.
For experts, “most of their experience is with shallow-water spills that quickly bleed black goo onto beaches that are cleaned up relatively quickly,” says the Los Angeles Times.
That is clearly not what has happened in the Gulf, where shorelines have, so far, emerged relatively unscathed.
The nature of the oil in the Gulf oil spill could be relevant – it is of a lighter grade than that in the Exxon Valdez spill, for example.
More relevant could be the dispersant that BP is applying to the oil at the source. BP officials have hailed the process as a success, noting diminishing oil at the surface. But the dispersant breaks the oil into smaller drops, which might instead be spreading throughout the water column, instead of rising to the surface.
It is not clear what this would mean environmentally, though past research indicates that oil can be trapped in the seabed for decades after oil on the surface is cleaned away.
Originally posted by apacheman
A 2001 (My emphasis) The Geological Society of London (World’s oldest association of earth scientists) short summary discussing tsunamis caused by underwater landslides (and other causes) “A major submarine (landslide) slope failure in the N. Atlantic could give rise to a tsunami large enough to flood major cities on the coast of America or Europe.”
For comparison of the tsunami’s wave height described in the Summary, imagine an 11 or 12 story high building racing toward you.