BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Vessels of Opportunity are preparing to search the Mississippi Sound for submerged oil.
Although there have not been any confirmed reports of underwater oil in Mississippi waters, the testing is designed to help ease public concerns that underwater oil might be a serious problem.
The Coast Guard held a training session Monday for the submerged oil project. They'll use a combination of old fashioned devices and high tech equipment to scour the waters of the Mississippi Sound.
On the high tech side, a flourometer will measure light emissions against possible underwater oil. The more elementary method involves attaching a "sorbant pad" to a weighted line and lowering it to the bottom.
"What you're going to do is you're going to look at that pad. If you see any evidence of oil, then you're going to call into a sampling vessel," instructed environmental contractor Jason Kase, who was a part of the training team at the morning briefing.
Boaters and fishermen in the VoO program are instructed on how they'll survey and sample the Mississippi Sound. The team will begin searching for sub-surface oil by mid-week.
"The mission is going to have 48 vessels. Thirty two will be specifically assigned to subsurface oil assessment. The other 16 are going to be fast response boats in which we will still receive additional spot reports from aerial assets and recreational vessels. And we can respond to those reports immediately without interrupting the submerged oil assessment," said Kristen Jaekel, who will head up the Mississippi Sound team for the United States Coast Guard.
The Sound will be divided into a series of grid squares; each box representing four square miles. Each VoO operator will be expected to cover one square a day.
"Our basic mission here is to find the oil, if it's out there, and clean it up. And if it's not out there, we're trying to put some science behind this to put a lot of people's fears to rest, 'cause there are a lot of fears out there. Some may be warranted, some may not be," said Jamie Collins with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Along with lowering "sorbant pads" to various depths, the boaters will also be taking water samples.
"A Kemmerer bottle, which is a device that allows you to capture water from a certain depth in the water column, then close it off and drag it up to the surface for analysis," Collins explained.
VoO captains will be equipped with special handheld GPS devices to plot their progress.
"What it's able to do is mark every single position where a sample is done. It's also able to record whether it was a suspicious hit or not," said Lt. Jaekel. "And that data is immediately transferred to Mobile, where their researchers can take the data and plot it on their maps."
The DEQ will test any suspicious samples for the presence of oil. If a sample tests positive for oil, a so-called "fingerprint analysis" test will be conducted to determine if that oil came from Deepwater Horizon. Those test results take up to two weeks.