Underwater plumes from spill: Scientists

Large plumes of microscopic oil droplets are seen within several miles of the wellhead at a depth of 3,280 to 4,265 feet.

Florida researchers said that they had for the first time conclusively linked vast plumes of microscopic oil droplets drifting in the Gulf of Mexico to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The scientists, from the University of South Florida, matched samples taken from the plumes with oil from the leaking well provided by BP. The findings were the first direct confirmation that the plumes were linked to the spill, although federal scientists had said there was overwhelming circumstantial evidence tying them to BP’s well.

The discovery of the plumes several weeks into the oil leak alarmed scientists, who feared that clouds of oil particles could wreak havoc on marine life far below the surface. Plumes have been detected as far as 50 miles from the wellhead, although oil concentrations at those distances are extremely low, about 750 parts per billion.

This is well below the level considered acutely toxic for fish and marine organisms, but could still affect eggs and larvae, the scientists fear. “There are a lot of things that are potentially at risk,” said David Hollander, an oceanographer with the University of South Florida who is studying the plumes. “There’s not a lot known of the toxic effects of oil on organisms living in deeper waters.”

The announcement by the Florida researchers came as federal scientists released their own report on the oil formations. The multiagency report describes the presence of large plumes of microscopic oil droplets within several miles of the wellhead at a depth of 3,280 to 4,265 feet. Oil concentrations there are as high as 10 parts per million, or the equivalent of one tablespoon of oil in 130 gallons of water. The plumes closest to the well may be concentrated enough to pose a threat to nearby deepwater coral reefs, which host a diversity of ocean life, said Steve Murawski, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s chief scientist for the spill response. “We know that even low concentrations can be harmful to the eggs and larvae of the deep coral,” he said.

John Collins Rudolf

A huge jellyfish that did a lot of damage

The culprit sat in an open trash bag baking in the hot sun, raked to shore by a pitchfork-wielding lifeguard who paddled out on a surfboard. A crowd gathered around the trash bag that now contains the dead jellyfish that washed into Wallis Sands State Park stinging nearly 150 swimmers in Rye, New Hampshire. Staring down in wonder — and disgust — at the huge jellyfish carcass at Wallis Sands State Park, Simon Mayer of Rye asked, “Is that the monster?” It was to some, and it was doing plenty of posthumous damage. About 150 people were stung by what officials said was a lion’s mane jellyfish weighing 40 pounds, which turned the beach into a frenzied sea of screaming children and aching adults with red, sore feet and legs. It was pieces of its stinging tentacles that stung the waders, scientists said. Jellyfish can still emit toxins when dead or broken apart, said Renee Zobel, a marine biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “The cell type will keep on firing in the tentacles,” which also remain alive when separated from the animal, Zobel explained. The tentacles are like “loose spaghetti”, Larry Harris, a professor of zoology at the University of New Hampshire said.

Katie Zezima