Yesterday the environmental campaign group Greenpeace announced it was launching a three-month expedition to analyse the impact of BP’s oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico.
The Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise will “host independent scientists who will be researching the impacts of oil and chemical dispersants on Gulf ecosystems and marine life,” said John Hocevar, Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director.
“From the very start, the full scope of the Gulf oil disaster has been obscured by BP and even our own government,” said Hovevar.
Further evidence of this obscuration was explored in a great article earlier this week in the St. Petersburg Times.
It outlines how scientists from the University of Florida – who had uncovered a huge six-mile plume of oil underwater- were told to “shut up” by the two agencies sponsoring their research: the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The University of Florida has created an oil spill task force with 29 faculty members to coordinate research and response efforts related to the spill. It is a key academic instution analysing the spill’s effects.
“I got lambasted by the Coast Guard and NOAA when we said there was undersea oil,” USF marine sciences dean William Hogarth tells the paper. Some officials even told him to retract USF’s public announcement, he said, comparing it to being “beat up” by federal officials.
Hogarth’s team gave their data to NOAA, expecting to get either a shared analysis or the samples themselves back. So far they have received neither.
Other scientists suffered a similar treatment. Vernon Asper, an oceanographer at the University of Southern Mississippi, who was part of the same research effort, also tells the paper. “We expected that NOAA would be pleased because we found something very, very interesting. NOAA instead responded by trying to discredit us. It was just a shock to us.”
Asper alleges that NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, called the scientists “inept idiots”.
It was USF scientists who last month announced they could match the oil droplets in the undersea plumes to BP’s well. “What we have learned completely changes the idea of what an oil spill is,” USF scientist David Hollander said then. “It has gone from a two-dimensional disaster to a three-dimensional catastrophe.”
But what is happening is that the media continue to look at this as a two dimensional disaster. Some tabloid reports this week have shown reporters sitting on beaches and because there is no oil on them any more saying that the disaster has been exaggerated and has been cleaned up.
But it is the effect of this spill on the deep ocean and its inhabitants that is really scaring scientists.
Last week, researchers from the USF prepared to depart on another 10-day research expedition to the northern Gulf on the ship R/V Weatherbird II (pictured above).
Crucially they will return to the same area that USF scientists discovered the underwatered clouds of oil oil.
They hope to study the effect of oil on the smallest members of the food stream — plankton and microscopic organisms. They’ll also be looking for signs of dispersants and for oil in the sand.
“This is probably the first comprehensive study of this magnitude,” Bill Hogarth said.
The USF research mission will be criticial in unravelling the secrets of the deep.
And if the Greenpeace research trip can assist looking at the impact of oil and dispersant in the deep ocean, then that can only be a good thing too.