NOAA vessel will conduct research on underwater plume - - The News for South Mississippi

NOAA vessel will conduct research on underwater oil plume

By Jessica Bowman – email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - A request from the Unified Command has the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter, a fisheries research vessel, leaving Thursday morning to conduct research on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill underwater plume. Jessica Bowman spoke with one NOAA Research Fishery Biologist who said sound waves will help determine if oil is deep within the ocean floor.

Crews aboard the 224 foot fisheries research vessel said there is a tremendous amount of information about the oil distribution on the surface of the water from the oil spill, but the unknown is what's happening beneath the surface.

Cmdr. Dave Score said, "They've brought us in and are recasting us to tool up and go out and investigate the characteristics of the potential deep water plumes associated with the oil spill."

NOAA Chief Scientist Russell Brown said, "Our initial plan is to conduct acoustic operations or acoustic transects in the vicinity of the spill."

NOAA's Chief Scientist for the mission said this is a sound system that is built directly into the hull of the ship. With the touch of a button the team will emit sound into the water at a certain frequency. If there is oil beneath the surface the sound will actually reflect back to the ship which will be monitored by a hydrophone.

NOAA's Chief Scientist Russell Brown said, "The objective here is to look at the back scatter that comes back from the acoustic sampling to see if we can detect oil there at depths within the ocean."

If they do have success detecting oil layers then they have a number of technologies they will apply to try and confirm the presence of oil beneath the surface of the sea.

"We have a very specialized atomized under water vehicle. This is a vehicle that looks much like a torpedo, it has a little propeller on the back and we can program that to go down and sample and very deep and specific depths," said NOAA's Chief Scientist Russell Brown.

The AUV device has ten water collection devices that are about the size of a two liter bottle that it can bring to the surface for the crew to analyze.

The mission is a collaborative project between NOAA, the University of New Hampshire, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the University of South Florida. The crew of 35 is scheduled to leave Thursday at 10a.m. and will be back in about eight days.

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