Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) just released a paper proving the existence of a deep sea oil plume resulting from the Gulf oil spill which is spreading and unlikely to disappear for a long time to come. Until now, scientists had not been sure of the plume’s existence and could only hint at its possible size. The new research shows that the plume is 1.2 miles wide, 650 feet high and at least 25 miles long – at least that is as much as WHOI researchers could measure before Hurricane Alex made them turn back to shore.

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We’ve shown conclusively not only that a plume exists, but also defined its origin and near-field structure,” said Richard Camilli of WHOI’s Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department — who also is the lead author of the paper in Science. “Until now, these have been treated as a theoretical matter,” Camilli added. This news comes amid conflicting reports from the media and certain scientists about the amount of oil left in the Gulf from the disaster. Respected researchers believe that as much as 80% of the oil could be left while the news media is widely announcing that there’s a mere 25% of the oil left.

Before the researchers at WHOI released the information they found about the plume, it was widely suggested that deep-sea droplets of oil remaining would be easily degraded and would pose no large threat on ecosystems. The large remaining amount of oil could contribute to huge dead zones in the Gulf — we’ve reported on the Gulf’s low oxygen levels before — and this deep-sea plume could linger and wreak havoc far into the future. Though scientists haven’t confirmed this yet, it is still too early to know what the extent of the damage will be. What they do know is that the plume is moving and could spread further even though the well has been plugged.

Via Science Daily