posted on Jul, 5 2010 @ 09:22 AM
This was a great piece i found on drudge. g
It is perhaps the most important question of the BP oil spill — but scientists don't appear close to answering it despite a historically vast
In the 2 1/2 months since the spill began, the gulf has been examined by an armada of researchers — from federal agencies, universities and
nonprofit groups. They have brought back vivid snapshots of a sea under stress: sharks and other deep-water fish suddenly appearing near shore,
oil-soaked marshes turning deathly brown, clouds of oil swirling in deep water.
"The distribution of the oil, it's bigger and uglier than we had hoped," said Roger Helm, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official and the lead
scientist studying the spill for the Interior Department. "The possibility of having significant changes in the food chain, over some period of time,
is very real. The possibility of marshes disappearing . . . is very real."
In recent years, Louisiana has been losing a football field's worth of its fertile marshes to erosion every 38 minutes. In the gulf itself,
pollutants coming from the Mississippi's vast watershed helped feed a low-oxygen "dead zone" bigger than the entire Chesapeake Bay. Measuring the
spill's damage, then, requires distinguishing it from the damage done by these other man-made problems.
The official toll of dead birds is about 1,200, a fraction of the 35,000 discovered after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. But this, too, has been
called into question. Officials can only count the birds they can find, and many think a number of oily birds have sought refuge in the marshes.
An official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said his agency had found evidence of significant submerged oil — 1 to 2 parts
per million — from the BP spill only within six miles of the well. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said it has not seen
"large scale" problems with low dissolved oxygen around the submerged oil in the gulf.
Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation, said he did not think the government had studied these areas well enough yet.
"I've been frustrated with the calm reassurances that we've been receiving, because . . . I don't know what they're based on," Inkley said. In
particular, he said he was worried that submerged oil might kill deep-water coral colonies that had grown over the course of centuries.
"Think of going and cutting down a giant Sequoia tree. . . . If these corals are killed, then those areas will be vacant for some time," Inkley
For those who study fish — literally, moving targets — the data so far are a confusing hash of anecdotes and sightings.
'Impending sense of doom'
In Sarasota, Fla., scientists found an 11-foot tiger shark, normally an open-water fish, drifting near the surf. That, plus sightings of whale sharks
and other creatures outside their normal environmental range, raised concerns that oily water or low oxygen in the central gulf might be driving fish
"It would be like, to these fish, almost like an island, a huge island rising up in the middle of the gulf," said Bob Hueter of the Mote Marine
Laboratory in Sarasota. Seeing this and other strange patterns in fish, Hueter said, "I just, all of a sudden, just felt this impending sense of
doom, that the place that I loved was going to be changed in a very dramatic way."
Federal scientists, however, say that they've seen evidence that even plankton — some of the smallest, most sensitive creatures in the gulf — are
living in the area around the leaking well.
"Right now," said John Valentine, who studies the gulf from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, "we should be more impressed by what we don't
know than what we do know."
Just around the leaking BP wellhead, a Texas A&M University scientist reported finding pockets of water with very low dissolved oxygen. That might be
a sign that bacteria were consuming oil from the spill — but, in the process, the water became suffocating for other sea life.
Story continues below