Researchers aboard the F.G. Walton Smith vessel briefed reporters on a two-week cruise in which they traced an underwater oil plum 15 miles wide, 3 miles long and about 600 feet thick. The plume's core is 1,100 to 1,300 meters below the surface, they said.
"It's an infusion of oil and gas unlike anything else that has ever been seen anywhere, certainly in human history," said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, the expedition leader.
Bacteria are breaking down the oil's hydrocarbons in a massive, microorganism feeding frenzy that has sent oxygen levels plunging close to what is considered "dead zone" conditions, at which most marine life are smothered for a lack of dissolved oxygen.
Joye said her team also measured extremely high levels of methane, which is also spewing from the gushing BP well at up to 10,000 times background levels in Gulf waters. "I've been working in the Gulf of Mexico for 15 years," Joye said. "I've never seen methane concentration this high anywhere in the water."
"an infusion of oil and gas unlike anything else that has ever been seen anywhere, certainly in human history"
Scientist Awed by Size, Density of Undersea Oil Plume
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