New ECOGIG research maps naturally occurring oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico

New ECOGIG research maps naturally occurring oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico
A natural oil seep in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy of Dr. Ian MacDonald (ECOGIG).

January 05, 2016

Dr. Ian MacDonald (Florida State University) recently published new research in the Journal of Geophysical Research, using satellite synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to quantify the size and distribution of surface oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico from natural seeps and from the Deepwater Horizon discharge of 2010.

In total, 4.3 million barrels were released into the Gulf from the oil spill versus an annual release of 160,000 to 600,000 barrels per year from naturally occurring seeps, according to the new results.

"This information gives us context for the Deepwater Horizon spill," said FSU Professor of Oceanography Ian MacDonald. "Although natural seeps are significant over time, the spill was vastly more concentrated in time and space, which is why its impact was so severe."

Among the findings was that dispersants were able to eliminate about 21 percent the oil that floated on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico after the spill, but at the cost of spreading the remaining oil over a 49 percent larger area.

This map of oil also provides a basis for additional scientific research.

Using this new set of data, scientists will be able to go to a controlled area where they already know oil exists and perform controlled observations, as opposed to spilling new oil into an area. It also shows how the Gulf has adapted to natural oil seeps.

ECOGIG researcher Ajit Subramaniam, used the data set to focus on natural oil seeps and discovered something unusual -- phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain -- were thriving in the area of these natural oil seeps. The results published in Nature Geoscience show that phytoplankton concentrations near the oil seeps were as much as twice as productive as those a few kilometers away where there were no seeps. Read more about this paper and their findings here.

The entire paper, titled "Natural and unnatural oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico" can be found here

To read more coverage on this paper, please visit the following news stories:

Researchers map oil in Gulf of Mexico

Where is the oil in the gulf? FSU researcher takes a look

FSU scientists conduct comprehensive analysis of oil in Gulf of Mexico

Study Describes Oil Slick Differences in Natural Seeps and Deepwater Horizon

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