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Jon Stewart travels out into the Gulf of Mexico, getting up close to the site where the massive, floating drilling rig Deepwater Horizon sank, around 50 miles off the coast, with disastrous consequences on the 22nd April.
He has permission to board the RV (research vessel) Cape Hatteras, a science ship, owned by the US National Science Foundation, run by Duke University & the University of North Carolina Oceanographic Consortium. The ship is orbiting the nucleus of activity at the site of the oil spill, held at a distance of five nautical miles. The ship has been modified to meet the needs of the scientists studying this leak
Researchers Professor David Valentine from University of California in Santa Barbara and Professor John Kessler of Texas A & M University are onboard for a 10 day ‘cruise’ hoping to answer some basic questions about how much crude is flowing and where it’s going. Although usually referred to as an ‘oil spill’, the leak is made up of over 40% natural gas – mostly methane, propane and ethane.
Much of the methane in particular seems to be trapped in the water, rather than rising to the surface. Atmospheric measurements just above the water don’t show elevated readings of the gas, so the scientists believe it is held at depth, and spreading in what they’re calling ‘plumes’ – horizontal layers of gas and oil.
By measuring the methane levels at different depths and positions, scientists are hoping to get an idea of where the undersea plumes of oil are and what’s happening to them.
This will hopefully give them a better understanding of how this deep water spill is behaving and where the oil is travelling. Whether the amounts of the potent greenhouse gas – methane – leaking will have an effect on climate change when it eventually reaches the atmosphere as well as calculating the quantity of trapped methane could also help with estimates of total oil leaking.