No oil spotted offshore–at least in the shallows

A team from the University of Florida has found no visible signs of oil just off the coast of Alabama and the Florida panhandle (well, at least between 9-45 feet sampling depths). This is the same as we observed on our recent boat trip off Dauphin Island. Eerily, the oil is just…gone. And that’s not necessarily reassuring.

This story starts with a chipper headline, but really has quite macabre undertones. USF researcher Ping Wang notes that:

“Since no visually identifiable oil was found on or below the surface in the nearshore zone at any of the sampling sites, we believe that it is unlikely that significant amounts of ‘new oil from the nearshore’ will be washed onto the beach during storms,” Wang said. “However, it should be noted that based on our earlier study of buried oil along the beaches, erosion of buried beach oil and subsequent redistribution is expected during storms.”

So to summarize: Good news! There isn’t any oil offshore waiting to wash up onto beaches, hurrah! Um, well yes, but there is actually quite a bit of oil buried on the beaches that will continue to leach hydrocarbons and get churned up in a tempest. Oh, and by ‘offshore’ we only mean really shallow depths—it definitely looks like there’s still oil in the deep-sea. And we haven’t really done hydrocarbon analyses so there could actually be tons of microscopic toxins not visible with the naked eye. And don’t forget that much of the fauna may be dead already from the goopy behemoth that was washing ashore all summer…

This story comes as I am hearing more and more reports of about ‘fluffy’ layers of oil in deep-sea cores. There were several people at the JSOST meeting last week reporting the same thing (I saw more pictures there). I’m trying to work my scientist magic and get some subsamples from these oiled deep-sea cores—these things are the sugar daddy of all samples!

Holly Bik (160 Posts)

I am a computational biologist at the University of California, Riverside. My research uses DNA sequencing and genomics to study microbial eukaryotes (yeah, nematodes!) in marine ecosystems, with an emphasis on evolution and biodiversity in the deep-sea. I can neither confirm nor deny that I like Unix more than I like going to sea.