Update on NOAA’s Oil Spill Research Missions

June 13, 2010

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is playing a vital role in the oil spill response, using all the scientific methods at its disposal, including satellites in space, planes in the air, boats on the water, gliders under the sea, scientists in the field, and information online. The following is an update on some of the research cruises taking part in the effort.

R/V Thomas Jefferson (NOAA)

NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, a 208-foot survey vessel, returned Friday morning from a mission in the vicinity of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Researchers took water samples and were testing advanced methods for detecting submerged oil while gathering oceanographic data in the area’s coastal waters. The Thomas Jefferson is at port in Galveston, TX while plans are finalized for its next mission.

R/V Gordon Gunter (NOAA)

NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter, a 224-foot research vessel, returned June 4 from an eight-day oil detection mission in the vicinity of the BP Deepwater Horizon well head. During the effort, researchers collected water samples, conducted plankton tows and employed echo sounders, autonomous underwater vehicles and other technologies to collect subsurface data. Results from this mission should be available within the next few weeks. The Gordon Gunter is at port in Pascagoula, Miss. while plans are finalized for its next mission.

R/V Pelican (LUMC)

A NOAA-supported research mission aboard the Pelican, owned by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, was conducted May 2-16. Water column samples provided to NOAA and analyzed by Louisiana State University indicated no detectable hydrocarbons (smaller than parts per billion range). However, the sample storage practices were not consistent with EPA guidance, so the results are not considered valid for analysis, and will not be used.

R/V Weatherbird II (Univ. of South Florida)

On June 8, NOAA released the results of its independent analysis of water samples provided from the May 22-28 research mission of the University of South Florida’s R/V Weatherbird II. This confirmed the presence of very low concentrations of sub-surface oil and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) at sampling depths ranging from 50 meters to 1,400 meters. However, NOAA was only able to positively trace the surface samples from a sampling station 40 nautical miles southeast of the well head to the BP oil spill. The samples from a station 45 nautical miles northeast of the well head were at a concentration too low to confirm a source. The hydrocarbons detected in samples from the station 142 nautical miles to the southeast were not consistent with the BP oil spill. More information on these results is online.

For the latest information about NOAA’s response to the oil spill: http://www.deepwaterhorizon.noaa.gov

For information about the response effort, visit www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com.

Key contact numbers

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us on Facebook.