The crew aboard the Latitude has successfully completed the experiment to map the oil plume around the Deepwater Horizon. They successfully deployed 16 buoys up to 6,000 feet deep, and were able to retrieve 90% of the buoys and hundreds of sensors.
Oceana’s Pacific science director Dr. Jeff Short will now analyze the presence and concentration of toxic hydrocarbons surrounding BP's Deepwater Horizon wellhead, which noone has yet done.
Here’s Will’s final report, and stay tuned for the next leg of the expedition, in which the crew will use a deep-sea ROV to explore important habitat areas near the Deepwater Horizon.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Another hard working day notched into the belt. After today the Oceana team can check three more moorings off the list. Today started in similar fashion as the last few days: wake up early, eat breakfast and hoist a mooring. What separated today from the others were jellyfish and canyons.
To this point the Oceana team has been relatively lucky in terms of accidents and painful encounters. Yet today after an “easy” first set, we went for another, and boy did we get a surprise. Everything was normal at first, and then it happened. Jellyfish started floating past the line. Minutes later, as the crew pulled the line through the winch, jelly slime began to pass through hands. Unnoticed at first, soon people began to squirm.
Jellyfish sting their prey using nematocysts which are their stinging structures located in specialized cells called cindocytes. In our case the stinging structures of the jellies wrapped around the long line and in some cases stuck. As the crew pulled in the line the cindocytes transferred from the rope to the gloves of the team. Minutes later the fun ensued. When nematocysts pierce the skin they inject venom. The venom is very uncomfortable, and sometimes requires medical assistance. Luckily for us no such medical assistance was needed, but we all immediately washed off and changed clothes after the set.
The Oceana crew has officially become used to the life aquatic. After a hard day yesterday and having worked on this leg of the journey for a little over a week, our heads hit the pillows hard last night.
We thought we had seen everything, but this morning we awoke to yet another surprise: silence. No waves, no wind and no clouds. The crew began work today under a clear sky – it’s the first time in this part of the expedition that the seas have been favorable.
Our first task was to seek out a mooring. With the given GPS coordinates in hand the crew took to the deck, eyes on all levels of the ship. We scanned the horizon but saw nothing; the first buoy of the day was missing. The story was the same at the second mooring site. Some of the crew suspected foul play and others thought it may have been run over by another ship, but only Poseidon will know for certain.
This morning a small expedition on the Oceana Longitude including Oceana’s Soledad Scotto, Carlos Suárez, Fernando Loyola and Gorka Leclercq were sent out to Ship Island to look for signs from the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Although there was too much wind to dive, there was a chance to go ashore.
Ship Island is shared name of two barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi. Hurricane Camille tore through the island in 1969 and split the island in two. The island is famed for its rich cultural significance to the Gulf of Mexico. The Island became so important because of its deep-water harbor that served as vital anchorage for ships bearing explorers and colonists.
Upon the team’s arrival to Ship Island they found a cleaning patrol of around 30 or more people. The patrol was sifting and raking tar balls and oil spatter from the white sand beaches which surround the island. A few staff from the oil spill cleanup patrol recommended the Oceana team travel a bit further down the beach to an area that had yet to be cleaned.
After traveling about a half of a mile down the beach the team reached an area of beach dotted in oil spill patties and tar balls. Also found in the oil soaked sand were various shells and other flotsam and jetsam stained black from the oil.
Meanwhile on the Oceana Latitude, Oceana’s Pacific Science Director, Dr. Jeff Short, finished nailing down logistics of the oil plume experiment. Team members gathered the last of the necessary supplies and began experiment assembly. The team assembled over 800 ganion clips and 40 spliced floats.
Tomorrow we set sail for the Deepwater Horizon site to begin testing the waters.
Tuesday was a busy day on the Latitude, as the crew docked in Mississippi to share preliminary findings of the first weeks on the water. Here's Dustin's update:
The Oceana Latitude arrived in Gulfport, Miss., late Monday. Over the next few days, equipment for Oceana’s upcoming deepwater oil exploration efforts will be loaded onto the vessel.
On Tuesday, Oceana was joined for a press conference by corporate partner Nautica and celebrity activists, including award-winning actors Ted Danson and Morgan Freeman as well as New York-based Spanish model Almudena Fernandez and San Pedro (Belize) mayor Elsa Paz.
At the press conference, experts provided an update on the first legs of the two-month research expedition and discussed the approaching efforts to map the subsurface oil plume with cutting-edge science and document seafloor habitat areas that may have been harmed by underwater oil with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) capable of reaching depths of more than 3,200 feet and filming in high-definition.
The press conference was covered by several media outlets, including Associated Press, Thomson Reuters, EFE, CBC Radio, Biloxi Sun Herald, Mississippi Press and local ABC affiliate WLOX.
Scientist-in-charge of the expedition Dr. Michael Hirshfield also led two tours to Ship Island on Tuesday. Ship Island, which survived Hurricane’s Camille and Katrina, was devastated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Although this island’s fort was once capable of protecting the local coasts, it was no defense against oil. According to BP contractors, 1,200 pounds of sandy tar balls were removed from the island Tuesday, 1,400 pounds Monday and 1,600 pounds Sunday.
Emily went up in a spotter plane last weekend to look for whale sharks, while senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor was on the Latitude waiting for word of the sharks' location so the scientists on board could follow them in order to tag the animals. Unfortunately, the sharks proved elusive. Here's Dustin's report:
The whale sharks in the Gulf of Mexico spent the weekend hiding from the Oceana Latitude.
The crew spent two days searching for these sharks off the coast of southeastern Louisiana. Our hope was to tag some of them so that we could monitor their movements and contribute to scientists' understanding of the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on their survival. Whale sharks were observed swimming in surface oil near the gushing wellhead earlier this year.
The two spotter planes did have one sighting, but the four whale sharks dove too quickly for us to track them.
Oceana and the University of Southern Mississippi have not given up and will continue the search Tuesday.
Here’s Oceana marine scientist Elizabeth Wilson:
It wasn’t until we reached Grand Isle to drop off the shark experts that we saw a school of what appeared to be silky sharks.
During transit, the experts spent time talking with Associated Press reporter Rich Matthews. One thing is clear, no matter what direction you look in the Gulf of Mexico, there are always oil rigs in the landscape.
Yesterday, our scientist Matthias Gorny was unsure if he could identify indications of abandoned oil wells on the Gulf floor using the ROV from the Oceana Latitude. But in our dispatch from today, Dustin Cranor has let us know that Matthias has evaluated the ROV footage further - and this time come up with signs of an abandoned well 90 feet underwater. Along an otherwise flat seafloor, Gorny discovered a raised surface approximately three feet high with black sediment excavated by worms, which indicates a presence of hydrocarbons.
Check out this slideshow of images captured by the ROV.
The Gulf of Mexico is threatened by more than just offshore drilling. Industrial fishing has destroyed many habitats already, as our team saw yesterday. Here's Dustin's update from the Latitude:
A recent story by the Associated Press revealed that there are more than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these wells are believed to still be leaking oil into the Gulf.
Oceana sent its ROV from Chile down (approximately 90 feet to the seafloor) today off the coast of Alabama to investigate an abandoned oil well that began drilling in 1981.
Oceana was unable to find any infrastructure from the abandoned well. However, the ROV did allow us to see the result of using destructive fishing gear in the area. The sea floor at this location was leveled. Trawls appeared to have bulldozed everything in their path, leaving only broken shells and a few remaining fish and sea stars.
Here's Oceana's ROV operator and science director for Chile Matthias Gorny:
I’m happy to report that the Oceana Latitude officially set sail yesterday evening for the Gulf of Mexico out of Fort Lauderdale!
The first stop will be Key West, where the Oceana crew will work with the ROV and specialized divers to document bottom habitat and other marine life that could be in danger if oil is captured by sea currents and transported towards southern Florida or if another oil spill occurs in this area in the future.
Here’s Oceana chief scientist Mike Hirshfield:
The Oceana Latitude is making its final preparations for eight weeks on the water. We got this dispatch from our trusty senior campaigns communications manager, Dustin Cranor:
Good news. The satellite internet and phone system is back up and running.
The crew took advantage of the day by spending time testing a majority of the equipment onboard the Oceana Latitude.
Matthias Gorny, from Oceana’s Chilean office, launched the ROV from the vessel to assess its standard operating procedures, including ensuring that its seals were working properly. The Longitude, a 42 foot boat adapted for Oceana’s research needs, was also deployed for at sea testing.
I’m happy to report that everything worked as planned.
Click here to see a slideshow of photos from the preparations, including a visit from Spanish model Almudena Fernandez.
The crew aboard the Oceana Latitude is just about ready to set sail in the Gulf of Mexico to investigate the long-term impacts of the oil spill. Oceana marine scientist Margot Stiles is on-board making last minute preparations; here she is to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the crew's home away from home for the next two months: