Mapping the Oil Plume - Oceana USA
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August 30, 2010

Mapping the Oil Plume

On Friday the Latitude set off on the next leg of the journey: measuring the underwater oil plume in the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s our on-board dispatcher for this leg, Will Race, on the very wet start to the experiment:

On Friday, the crew held a strategy meeting to discuss the next seven days and what’s in store. Pacific Science Director Dr. Jeff Short explained his science experiment: The basic approach for evaluating the subsurface oil plumes will be the deployment of an array of moorings with sensor strips every 100 meters.

Moorings will be deployed in three main areas: 12 within 5 km of the wellhead, 12 in a rectangular array extending up to 90 km to the northeast of the wellhead, and 12 in another rectangular array extending up to 90 km southwest of the wellhead.

With everyone in agreement, it was time to go. Due to the drastically shallow shore line, the Mississippi Port Authorities require a local captain come aboard to navigate boats through the shallows, until they are offshore. An additional treat was when pelicans and various other marine birds decided to escort us out to sea.

Once out at sea, the Oceana team continued to assemble gear for the next day’s first mooring drop. We traveled nearly 10 hours to the first drop site.

The next morning started off with a bang, literately. The hull of the Oceana Latitude was smashing hard through the waves and acted as an early morning alarm clock for the Oceana crew. Awaking to an ocean landscape of oil rigs, whitecaps and an unforgiving sky, I thought to myself, this must be the beginning of an exciting day.

With five to ten foot swells crashing into the boat, the Oceana team took to the deck with much enthusiasm. Despite the bad weather hopes were high and eyes were bright. The team’s newly found sea legs came in handy as the boat jostled, back, forth and side to side.

The first task of the day was to prep the 5/16in leaded line and the 150 lb anchor for deployment. Lines were cauterized, spliced and connected, while the anchor was shackled and chained. Dr. Short directed and orchestrated the team as it came time to hoist the anchor.

Rough seas made no possibilities of putting the small pilot boat in the water an option. Failure was not an option. Dr. Short decided to attach the PEMD test strips from the side of the Oceana Latitude instead of from the side of the small boat. Instead, Dr. Short was harnessed and strapped securely to ship for optimal safety during the attachment exercise.   

Anchor was hoisted and dropped. Looking around I could tell everyone was a bit nervous. As waves continued their assault on the ship, leaded line was let out and depths were marked. Test strips went on and more line went out, and the rain and wind seemed to increase as the team neared the end.

Finally, with one last scramble the buoy was thrown overboard and the entire team exhaled. Cheers erupted as the buoy bobbed and showed no sign of sinking. Soaking wet and exhausted the team was forced inside due to increasingly bad weather conditions.

Hours passed as we waited to arrive at the next drop zone. Weather forced us to take the trip slow and allowed for only one more drop the rest of the day. However, tomorrow is a new day and goals are high, six to eight moorings is the goal, but we will keep our fingers crossed because ultimately it will be up to the weather.

Stay tuned!