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Gulf Oil Spill Was Bigger, Badder Than We Thought

Satellite imagery couldn't detect toxic oil beneath ocean surface: researchers
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 13, 2020 11:44 AM CST
A large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in this April 2010 file photo.   (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
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(Newser) – The Deepwater Horizon spill was worse than thought, thanks to "invisible and toxic oil," say researchers. Ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, a study out of the University of Miami suggests the spread of the spill was 30% larger than satellite data indicated, reports the Washington Post. "There was a substantial fraction of oil invisible to satellites and aerial imaging," says study co-author Igal Berenshtein, per USA Today. Co-author Claire Paris-Limouzy explains that satellites easily detect oil that comes to the surface "as a thick layer" but miss smaller concentrations. The researchers used 3D computer simulations to identify a greater range of damage, one that stretches from Texas to the east coast of Florida, reports CNN.

What's more, the "invisible" oil was so toxic it could have killed half of all marine life it touched, according to the study in Science Advances. "Oil in these concentrations for surface water extended beyond the satellite footprint and fishery closures, potentially exterminating a vast amount of planktonic marine organisms across the domain," the authors write. The hope is that their approach will be used in conjunction with satellite imagery to detect the full extent of future spills. The Deepwater spill dumped somewhere between 168 million to 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. (The Trump administration is appealing a judge's ruling that Obama-era restrictions on offshore drilling remain in place.)

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