Thursday, February 3, 2011

Big blob of gunk found in the Gulf

Big blob of gunk found in the Gulf

Scientists used a multi-corer to take sediment samples near Perdido Pass, offshore of the Alabama and Florida border. Lab tests found no traces of oil. The goo is made entirely of dead plankton, algae and bacteria.
Published: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 10:28 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 2:25 p.m.
From a distance the toxic goo looks like oil, but up close it smells like rotten eggs and wiggles like jelly. Scientists have no idea what it is or how it wound up in the northern Gulf of Mexico, near Perdido Pass.

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A core sample from Perdido Pass taken in Dec. 2010, shows black goo at least 50 centimeters deep.
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Just off the Florida Panhandle coastline, within site of Perdido Key, scientists have discovered an underwater mass of dead sea life that appears to be growing as microscopic algae and bacteria get trapped and die.
Early samples indicate the glob is at least three feet thick and spans two-thirds of a mile parallel to the coast.
No one knows where it came from or where it will go.
Scientists are trying to determine if oil from last year's Deepwater Horizon disaster led to the glob. But tests so far have found no sign of oil.
"It seems to be a combination of algae and bacteria," said David Hollander, a chemical oceanographer with the University of South Florida, describing the substance as "extraordinarily sticky" and toxic.
While scientists have drawn no conclusions about the gooey mat's origin, they are not ruling out a potential connection to the oil spill. Oil gummed and slicked that part of the Gulf for 30 to 40 days during the three-month well gusher, which pumped 186 million to 227 million gallons of crude into the Gulf.
"We don't know all the ramifications, the implications of a spill like this," Hollander said.
He and other scientists plan to return to the glob in a few weeks for more samples. The equipment available on the last cruise was not long enough to reach the bottom of the mat. The bottom sediments could hold important clues about how the glob formed. The scientists also did not have the time or equipment to map out the entire blob.

Researchers found the substance while on a December search for oily sediments on the Gulf floor. Scientists found such sediments, but were diverted when they got a tip about something unusual about a half mile from Perdido Pass.
The environment near the blob is a relatively pristine sloping shelf, where wave action usually sweeps away sediments.
Tests show it had no connection to land, was less than a year old and almost 100 percent biological. Tests also showed that tiny organisms had been getting stuck to the blob and dying as a result.
George Crozier, executive director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Louisiana, said such material is foreign to the northern Gulf coast environment.
"It sounds a lot like an organic deposit, the source of which is frankly very difficult to ascertain," Crozier said.
He speculates that a bloom of algae may have feasted on something - possibly oil - ran out of food and then died. The decaying algae might have then sucked all the oxygen out of the water and killed whatever was in the way.
The blob is equally puzzling to local ecologists who study the coastal resources near Perdido Pass. But it could be one of many strange discoveries that scientists find as they conduct oil spill research. Gulf research has been limited over the decades, so every odd discovery may not have a link to the spill.
"The scrutiny and the eyes and the awareness and the attention on the water these days, people are noticing things they've never noticed before," said Phillip West, coastal resources manager for the city of Orange Beach, Alabama.
But all of the damage caused by the oil and the 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants used to break it up will be difficult to trace, especially as time passes.
 In his nine years with Orange Beach, West said he has never heard of a substance matching Hollander's description. Occasional mats of decayed marsh muck turn up, but those are far different.
West also is not ruling out a potential link to the oil.
"Ecology tells us there are chains of events that occur for inputs or disturbances in the environment. One thing can lead to another," West said.

1 comment:

  1. I look foward to reading about the follow up research and hope they can get proper equipment to find out what's at the bottom of this gunk.


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