This is good. This kind of information should be helpful in trying to figure out what to do next: NEW ORLEANS — With mystery swirling over ho
June 2, 2010

This is good. This kind of information should be helpful in trying to figure out what to do next:

NEW ORLEANS — With mystery swirling over how much oil may be lurking beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, a research vessel leaves Wednesday on a nine-day mission: To find and study a potentially toxic stew that oceanographers fear could be catastrophic for marine life.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Thomas Jefferson, one of the most technologically advanced vessels for finding hazards on the seafloor, has been diverted from a recent trip to map the ocean floor off Galveston, Texas, to the belching Deepwater Horizon oil leak.

Like most everything involved with the spill, there are more questions than answers. "The business of trying to detect submerged oil is not a settled science," Cmdr. Shepard Smith, the ship's commanding officer, said Tuesday during a tour of the ship for McClatchy. "There isn't a great body of experience with how to do this because it's a really very unusual circumstance."

The 208-foot, 36-person ship has been equipped with a variety of methods to detect oil. Smith said researchers have some idea how the sensors may react, he but added, "We don't know for sure, because we don't know the form it might take, and we've never done it before."

The ship and its researchers traditionally focus on changes to the seafloor that could present a threat to navigation — "usually we ignore what's in the water, we're more interested in the seafloor," Smith said. To help interpret the data, scientists from NOAA and other research facilities who specialize in studying ocean water and marine life have been brought aboard.

"It's totally new, we're really testing the feasibility of the approach, we don't know whether it will work or not, but it's certainly worth trying," said one of those researchers, Larry Mayer, the director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire. "What is the nature of submerged oil, if there is oil? We just don't understand its properties yet."

Some researchers have found what they say are vast plumes of oil suspended beneath the Gulf's surface, though BP has disputed those reports. Members of Congress and other researchers have been pressing the White House for weeks to do more to determine how much oil is suspended under the surface.

I hope it isn't too late to save natural treasures like this.

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