As you know, we’ve completely solved the Gulf oil spill and we can all go back to dreaming about puppies and sunshine (note sarcasm). Not so, according to five prominent scientists at the University of Georgia and Skidaway Insitute of Oceanography—in a new report released today by Georgia Sea Grant, they estimate that 70-79% (that’s 2.9 to 3.2 million barrels) of the Deepwater Horizon oil still remains at or below the surface in the Gulf of Mexico.
It seems like Sea Grant Georgia had the same response as I did when they heard the chipper optimism of the government report released on August 2nd—they didn’t believe for a minute that three-quarters of the oil had disappeared. According to this new report, we are only really certain about the fate of 10% of the oil spilled (the stuff we actually physically removed from Gulf waters using booms, skimming, burning, etc.). The Sea Grant report criticizes the government report for using categories such as “dispersed” and “dissolved”, citing that oil in these categories can still be highly toxic and pose a critical threat to the environment. Excluding the oil that was directly recovered from the Wellhead, here is Sea Grant’s breakdown:
The report also emphasizes that the most toxic components of crude oil (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a.k.a. PAHs) are not typically degraded by marine decomposers, who usually prefer short-chain hydrocarbons.
In terms of human impacts, these scientists underline an urgent need for an atmospheric sampling program to measure airborne oil components—these may have serious environmental and health-related effects on downwind Gulf cities like Atlanta. Such a study would also help to accurately assess evaporation rates of oil.
The good news? The oil appears to be staying in the Gulf (so far) and Eddy Franklin is currently blocking the Loop Current from dragging oiled water into the Gulf Stream and up the Eastern seaboard. Hurrah! Rejoice! Until the hurricanes start coming, at least.