It’s taken almost six weeks since the Deepwater Horizon blew up, killing 11 workers and ever since spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico, but National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) now has a couple of its best research ships on station.

Few Americans would probably guess that the federal Department of Commerce has its own Navy of 19 ships, mostly hand-me-downs from the U.S. Navy that make up a fleet larger than those of all but a handful of countries.

gordon-gunter-featured.jpgStill, only now have NOAA’s Thomas Jefferson and Gordon Gunter finally turned their considerable technology on what might be going on beneath the surface of the Gulf.

Before NOAA has been able to weigh in, a debate has broken out between university researchers who say there are a couple of large underwater plumes of dispersed oil moving under the surface, and BP, which says those plumes simply do not exist.

Whether or not the plumes exist is a critical question for the future availability and safety of Gulf seafood.  Shrimp and fish cannot be brought up through oil-polluted waters.  Fear about underwater plumes extends to their creating “dead zones” in large areas of the Gulf.

NOAA, which is also responsible for mapping the trajectories for the near shore and offshore oil, also continues to expand the area of the Gulf that is closed to fishing. As of 5 p.m. local time yesterday (June 2) the closure area measures 88,522 square miles, which is about 37 percent of our exclusive economic zone in the Gulf.

The Jefferson and the Gunter went looking for submerged oil as the spill made its first landfall in both Mississippi and Alabama after soiling 127 miles of Louisiana coastline.   Oil is also getting closer to Florida beaches in the Pensacola area.

If plumes are being held below the surface, experts say it may be because of the dispersants BP is using to break up the oil on the surface.

NOAA also is keeping track of sea turtle and dolphin deaths.  Through May 30, it counted 228 sea turtles and 29 dolphins among the dead.  Most of the deaths have not involved obvious signs of oil.  Some surviving animals are being held in rehabilitation.

Pictured:  NOAA ship Gordon Gunter in the Gulf of Mexico, courtesy NOAA.

  • I hope the NOAA ships find the oil pools that will float deep down under the gulf so that they can begin addressing that problem and healing the gulf’s ecosystem as soon as possible. That is a great habitat of animals and sea creatures for the United States, for which I will not to mention seafood, water, land, and tourist contamination except for this. I believe that BP wasn’t prepared for what happened which is more than just mere negligence. The should be able to have the means to fix and clean up any oil spill that is caused by their company, especially one as large as this. Regular people who read about the spill daily (like me) want to help, but what can we do? We don’t have the means.

  • this is horrible! my god!! and on top of that BP is controlling the authorities alone the gulf coast and keeping american citizens from accessing the beaches!!! who in gods name do they think they are? they first polute the intire gulf of mexico then they think they own the shore line?? why is the people of this country letting these nasty rich jerks control
    the beaches and in gods name why is the authorities in these united states taking orders from a company in a country that we gained independence from over 200 years ago?? the bottom line is they lost control (that part is obvious) and we own our shore lines! they have no right to tell a single american what to do on the beaches. we want to clean up their crapy mess and they should have no power to stop us!.screw the british and their money! we should run that company out of our waters and take matters into our own hands!