A Florida research vessel has found an underwater plume of oil as deep as 3,300 feet and as far as 142 miles southeast of the BP oil spill. The finding confirms the fears of Florida scientists and political leaders who warn that oil has polluted deep waters, causing unknown environmental damage apart from the surface slick lapping at the shores of the Gulf Coast. The southeasterly location of the plume indicates it has moved in the direction of the loop current in the Gulf, which carries water to the shores of South Florida. After reviewing the findings by scientists at the University of South Florida, federal officials acknowledged that the spill has produced deep plumes.
Jane Lubchenko, head of the government ocean agency known as NOAA, said oil concentrations in the water samples were very low. Scientists say they have little knowledge of the potential impact of deepwater pollution, prompting concern by Florida members of Congress that the spill will create lasting damage to the state’s shoreline, wildlife and tourism industry. The Florida members two weeks ago urged the Obama administration to assess the underwater impact, warning that submerged oil, much more than a surface slick, could damage coral reefs, mangroves, marine mammals and fisheries. “We do not know the dimensions, nature or movement of the threat,” they said in a letter to President Obama. “This is critical information to … prepare for the unfolding crisis.”