Marine scientists have discovered a massive new plume of what they believe to be oil deep beneath the Gulf of Mexico, stretching 22 miles from the leaking BP wellhead northeast toward an underwater canyon whose currents feed sealife in the waters off Florida.
The discovery by researchers on the University of South Florida College of Marine Science's Weatherbird II vessel is the second significant undersea plume reported since the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20. The find was announced Thursday, The Associated Press reports.
James H. Cowan Jr., a professor at Louisiana State University, said his crew on Wednesday found a plume of oil in a section of the gulf 75 miles northwest of the source of the leak.
Cowan said that his crew sent a remotely controlled submarine into the water, and found it full of oily globules, from the size of a thumbnail to the size of a golf ball. Unlike the plume found east of the leak -- in which the oil was so dissolved that contaminated water appeared clear -- Cowan said the oil at this site was so thick that it covered the lights on the submarine.
"It almost looks like big wet snowflakes, but they're brown and black and oily," Cowan said. The submarine returned to the surface entirely black, he said.
This discovery seems to confirm the fears of some scientists that -- because of the depth of the leak and the heavy use of chemical "dispersants" -- this spill was behaving differently than others. Instead of floating on top of the water, it may be moving beneath it, The Washington Post reports.