USM professor studies oil spill - - The News for South Mississippi

USM professor studies oil spill


By Michelle Lady - email

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -  A crew with the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology has been sent to study the Coastal Crisis.

Southern Miss and Ole Miss, in partnership with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, formed the group to develop and apply new technologies for undersea research. A crew was scheduled to do mapping, but its mission was diverted to the Gulf when the oil rig exploded.

Several Southern Miss and Ole Miss professors are taking advantage of this, hopefully, once in a lifetime chance to learn about oil. They have been out on the water for a week and stopped by their USM headquarters at Stennis Space Center Sunday to load up on additional gear and head back to sea.

Dr. Vernon Asper, a professor of Marine Science at USM, has spent the past week aboard the Pelican research vessel to study various components of the oil spill.

"We are looking for the presence of oil on the sea floor and it's probably too early to expect it to get there yet," Asper said. "The dispersants are going to coagulate the oil and cause it to sink but it sinks relatively slowly."

The group's mission this week is to focus on measuring the actual amount of oil in the water.

While Dr. Asper and others with NIUST conduct various research, BP continues their efforts to contain the oil leaking from the rig. Their latest effort installing a containment dome has failed.

"It's a phenomenon most people are completely unaware of," Dr. Asper explained. "What happens is if you take methane gas [natural gas], under considerable pressure in the presence of water at depth, bring those together and methane and water will combine to make this white crystal called methane hydrate. When it happens, it happens instantly and will plug up everything."

But Asper said the containment dome isn't a complete failure.

"They will probably solve this, and the way they will do this is some how heat up that dome. If you bring the temperature up just a little bit, the hydrate won't form," Asper said.

Meanwhile, the oil continues leaking and lingering atop the water.

"The areas that we visited out there where the really heavy oil is, the only word I can use to describe it is nasty. It's really awful," Asper said. "The other areas where the dispersant has had an effect doesn't look that bad. But it's hard to tell whether the dispersant is having a toxic effect or not, or what the ultimate fate of the oil is going to be."

Dr. Asper said he also observed two other containment processes underway by BP. He said several boats were placing boom in the water and trying to scoop up oil. Also he said the twin of Deepwater Horizon was in place drilling to try and plug up the leak.

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