St. Petersburg, Florida – Clouds of degraded underwater oil in the Gulf of Mexico have been positively identified as coming from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well through a chemical fingerprinting process.

Researchers at the University of South Florida said that the confirmation is the first direct scientific link established between the subsurface oil clouds, known as “plumes,” and the BP oil spill. Scientists had gathered ample circumstantial evidence to link the subsurface oil to the well, but lacked a definitive scientific link until chemical oceanographer David Hollander matched water samples against oil samples provided by BP.

“What we have learned completely changes the idea of what an oil spill is,” Hollander said. “It has gone from a two-dimensional disaster to a three-dimensional catastrophe.”

Biodegraded oil was found suspended at depths of 400 metres, and 1,000 to 1,4000 metres below the Gulf’s surface, in the form of microscopic droplets. The 400-metre layer was approximately 30 metres thick, and was observed 45 nautical miles north-northeast of the Deepwater Horizon site. The deeper layer was observed approximately 24 nautical miles east of the well. The clouds were found near the DeSoto Canyon, a critical area that interacts with Florida’s spawning grounds.

The BP oil samples were obtained after a meeting between company officials and U.S. Representative Kathy Castor. “Part of my effort to hold BP accountable was to make sure our university researchers had the tools they need to make a proper analysis,” Castor said. “Getting them the oil sample from BP was the key to establishing this connection. I will hold BP accountable as we make sure BP, not taxpayers, continue to pay for this mess.”

Researchers are now conducting work on determining what impact the spill, the subsurface degraded oil, and the heavy use of chemical dispersant may have for marine life and the Gulf’s ecology.

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