NOAA, Coast Guard search for sub-surface oil - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

NOAA, Coast Guard search for sub-surface oil

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

By Doug Walker – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The search is on for oil under the surface of the Mississippi Sound. The Coast Guard, NOAA, and other agencies are using a variety of methods to look for any signs of oil. So far, the results are encouraging. 

It's a short boat ride out to the testing area, five miles off shore from Biloxi, in about 17 feet of water. Two vessels of opportunity take park in the process.

Even though the tests may seem simple, there is a lot of science involved, according to Lt. John Garr, the Coast Guard water operations director.  

"We've systematically and comprehensively been trying to search, detect, delineate, and potentially recover any subsurface oil that might be in the water column or the bottom sediment."

The first test is the snare sentinel, which look like a string of pom poms. They come back clean.  Next, the sorbent drop, basically a piece of cloth tied to an anchor.  It's also clean.  But what if it wasn't?  Scientists would board the vessel to collect samples for more testing. 

The most elaborate test is called the Ponar, a claw that actually digs up sediment on the bottom.  Clean once again, but samples are placed in tubes for further study, just in case.  

Here are some numbers to take out of this grand experiment conducted by NOAA and the Coast Guard. There have been more than 8500 tests in three coastal states from Florida to Mississippi.  Only 50 of those tests came back questionable, and only two of those came back positive. Both were in Florida.

"We're super encouraged by the results that we've had to date," Garr said.

But what words can be used to convince a doubting public, people who don't believe the oil has simply vanished. 

"Well, I've been in the Gulf for a couple of months now in response to the spill," NOAA's Capt. Gary Petrae said.  "I've been eating as much seafood as I can from here because for me, this is where all the seafood comes from in the United States.  I would not hesitate to do so.  I'm actually anxious to finish today and go grab some seafood lunch." 

The testing program began three weeks ago and is scheduled to end by the middle of next week. But Coast Guard officials also say that if any oil is discovered below the surface of the water in the future, the testing program could resume.

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