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Oil Spill on Gulf Sea Floor

Shot of the BP oil spill on the surface

Far beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, deeper than divers can go, scientists say they are finding oil from the busted BP well on the sea’s muddy and mysterious bottom.


Oil at least two inches thick was found Sunday night and Monday morning about a mile beneath the surface. Under it was a layer of dead shrimp and other small animals, said University of Georgia researcher Samantha Joyce, speaking from the helm of a research vessel in the Gulf.

The latest findings show that while the federal government initially proclaimed much of the spilled oil gone, now it’s not so clear.

At these depths, the ocean is a cold and dark world. Yet scientists say that even though it may be out of sight, oil found there could do significant harm to the strange creatures that dwell in the depths: tube worms, tiny crustaceans and mollusks, single-cell organisms and Halloween-scary fish with bulging eyes and skeletal frames.

“I expected to find oil on the sea floor,” Joye said Monday morning in a ship-to-shore telephone interview. “I did not expect to find this much. I didn’t expect to find layers two inches thick. It’s weird the stuff we found last night. Some of it was really dense and thick.”

BP oil spill bursting out on sea floor.

BP oil bursting out on sea floor

Joye said 10 of her 14 samples showed visible oil, including all the ones taken north of the busted well. She found oil on the sea floor as far as 80 miles away from the site of the spill.

“It’s kind of like having a blizzard where the snow comes in and covers everything,” Joye said.


Since the well was capped on July 15 after some 200 million gallons flowed in the Gulf, there have been signs of resilience on the surface and the shore.

For Ian MacDonald, a Florida State University biological oceanographer who wasn’t part of Joye’s team, the latest findings confirm that government assessments about how much oil remains – especially are report on the subject by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in August – were to optimistic.

The oil “did not disappear,” he said. “It sank.”

Not all scientists agree with the assessment.

Ed Overton, a Louisiana State University chemist who has analyzed the spill for NOAA, doubted much oil was resting on the bottom.