Researchers: oil plumes in Gulf are pretty much a certainty
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06/02/10 Kate Bradshaw
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A team of state university researchers that's set to tackle the oil gusher's biggest questions.


photo by Kate Bradshaw, WMNF

Today at USF St. Pete’s College of Marine Science researchers said the Gulf oil slick is now 80,000 square kilometers or the size of South Carolina. And that’s just what can be seen. What they don’t know is how much remains beneath the surface in plumes. Last weekend, BP claimed that there were no sub-surface plumes. But Ian MacDonald, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, said the science says something different.

McDonald added that more confirmation of this comes every day from research vessels currently at sea. The big unknown, he said, is where it’s headed.

Another is its environmental impact.

These are some of the issues a team of researchers from multiple universities across the state wants to get a clear picture of in the coming years. They’re calling themselves the Oil Spill Academic Task Force. The aim, said William Hogarth, Dean of USF’s College of Marine Science, is to map out the full scope of the spill’s impacts on Florida.

Shirley Pomponi is Executive Director of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University. She said the hope is they’ll be able to answer some big questions before Florida sees the full scope of impacts from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Ross Ellington, Associate Vice President of Research at Florida State University, said the research will not occur strictly within the field of marine research.

In an economy where university budgets may best be described as strangled there is question of how a comprehensive, multi-year research effort might be funded. Hogarth said the money will likely come from BP as well as the government agencies that are responding to the disaster. Last week BP said it will fund research in the gulf to the tune of up to half a billion dollars over the next decade. Hogarth said he doesn’t know how much the Florida research would need. But he did say that the BP money would not alter their research.

University of Miami’s Peter Ortner said that this type of information gathering should have been done in the first place.

The Associated Press is reporting that Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen says crews are shooting chemical dispersants at oil that began leaking when a saw became stuck in the latest attempt to contain the oil gusher. The saw snagged as it was cutting through a pipe on the busted well. Allen said today the goal is to free the saw and finish the cut later in the day.

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