2013 June 03, Monday
Gulf of Mexico, 10-80 miles off the tip of Louisiana

Seas were calm and we had about 15 hours before we had to leave on travel, so we grabbed our clear shot between thunderstorms to the east and west and headed for the Gulf waters south of Louisiana to check on some gnarly-looking oil slicks we had seen out there on our whale shark flight last Friday May 24. The full story is below, but the very short story is that for over 30 nautical miles we tracked that chronic outrageously-ugly oil slick from the old Taylor Energy site (a platform and more than 25 attached pipelines that were damaged in Hurricne Ivan in 2004). We stopped following it in order to check out a few of the other sheens we had sighted on  May 24, and while some of those were still apparent, they were narrower lines of light surface sheen and only small portions of heavier rainbow sheen. We delighted to see a large adult sperm whale about 60 nm south of the Taylor slick, and we'll include some photo of that enormous handsome marine mammal below. 

We waited until today to publish this article, primarily because we had to leave on travel to the west coast for some animal rescue transports, but also because we gave our time instead to processing our photos and flight information in order to provide all of it to the US Coast Guard. As a result of what we showed them about the Taylor Energy slick, the USCG put together a group to work on our information and planned a flight out there themselves for this morning, Wednesday June 5.  Although winds and seas and storms kicked up after our flight, we hope that conditions are good enough today for them to follow our information and see this pollution for themselves today.

Why are we so motivated to keep trying to show the public and the USCG the true extent of the pollution out in the Gulf, particularly at this chronic Taylor site? Primarily because ever since we began flying and reporting on the Taylor pollution about two years ago (as regularly as we could afford to do), someone has been filing daily NRC reports on this site, claiming to be from aircraft sightings, claiming that the pollution amounts to a volume of little more than a few gallons of oil.  This is an outrageously innacurate underestimate. All of our videos and photos and our own NRC reports defy such statements, but to date, the USCG, the EPA, and other government enforcement agencies have not acted so as to effect the undertaking of repair or remediation. So the leakage has continued. Our short flight on Monday, in which we tracked just 30 nm of the meandering highway of rainbow sheen on the water' surface, proved that the sheer acreage involved is well over 200 acres (since the average width of the sheen we observed was at least 15 m, and 1000 acres is approximately 1 square nm or 4 square km). For oil to be clearly visible on the surface from about 1000' agl or higher, it is typically 1-10 microns thick. That implies that the volume of oil just in the sheen we tracked was at least as many gallons as it was acres, and maybe ten times that -- i.e., at least 200 gallons! (One gallon is approximately 1 acre of 1-micron thickness.)  Our motivation is that we would like the truth about the magnitude of the pollution here and elsewhere in the Gulf to be known and addressed properly, for the sake of the health and safety of all life associated with the Gulf of Mexico.

Before we get to the facts, here are some highlight photos from the Taylor slick, followed by a map of our flight route and then some highlight  photos of the sperm whale. Following that is a brief description of our flight, followed by larger photo galleries and finally the full transcription of our flight log. As always, you may download our GPS flight track file here, which will give you the details of our flight at 10-second increments (just scroll down for the file labeled with today's date). 

Very special thanks for this flight goes to supporters of Joyce Riley's radio show "The Power Hour" and to Mr. Jim Lodwick, whose recent donations we used to cover the costs of this flight. And to Brayton Matthews of Flightline First at New Orleans' Lakefront Airport, who came along as photographer and whose company has helped protect and maintain our airplane since the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf over three years ago.

Maps of our flight route today:


Photo highlights from the Taylor Energy slick (additional photos are in the gallery below):


Photo highlights of the sperm whale (additional photos are in the gallery below):

 

More photos of the gorgeous wetlands surrounded by glassy smooth muddy and green water are also included below.  Following these photo galleries is the full transcription of our flight log for today's flight, with all GPS coordinates, times, and brief descriptions of our sightings. Enjoy!
 

The Taylor Energy slick
(Approximately 90 nm southeast of KNEW and about 12 nm off the coast of Louisiana)
Here we followed a line of heavy rainbow sheen extensively, and only stopped because of severe time constraints.  Much sargassum was mixed in with the oil at the west side and southwest corner. The distance covered by our flight track from the northeast corner at the buoy marking the start of the oil sheen (at approx 12:14 CDT, N28 56.6 W88 58.1 -- coordinates in degrees and decimal minutes) to the southern tip where we stopped following it (at about N28 47 W89 00) was around 10 nm, and our second loop following it to the east took us a out 5.5 nm eastward (to about N 28 49 W88 54.7). Following the track from the buoy at the NE end to where we left it at the southern end spans the points numbered in our GPS flight log from 265 to 392 -- a distance of about 29.9 nm! That represents mileage in which we tracked heavy rainbow sheen continuously, without repeat sightings. 
 

The Taylor Energy slick viewed today, Monday June 03, 2013:

 

Sperm Whale on the Mississippi Slope south of Sackett Bank
The sperm whale seen today on the Mississippi Slope south of Sackett Bank (about 30 nm southeast of New Orleans):

 

**************************
Here is the transcription of our flight log for this flight:

On Wings Of Care Flight Log for 20130603-Monday
Check on recent oil sightings  in the Mississippi Canyon - Sackett Bank Area

All waypoint numbers below refer to the GPS tracks shown in today’s article at OnWingsOfCare.org.
Times are given in CDT.  
Lat/lons in the table below are given in decimal degrees; elsewhere we try to give them in degrees and decimal minutes, to faciliate use of marine nautical charts. 
Pilot: Bonny L. Schumaker, Ph.D. (ATP, CFI-AIM)
Crew/Photographer: J.Brayton Matthews of Flightline First, Lakefront Airport (KNEW)
Sponsors: Costs for this flight were covered by donations from supporters of The Power Hour radio show with host Joyce Riley. Special thanks goes to Mr. Jim Lodwick of Austin, TX.
Seas and weather:  Seas 1 ft, winds 5-10 kts from the southeast (over the Gulf; northerly winds over land). Thunderstorms and cumulonimbus development to the east and west, but clear except for occasional mist and haze over our route, with 10-15 mile visibility over most parts of the route. Extraordinarily calm and clear blue and green water.
Flight time: 3.1 hours
Flight route: From New Orleans’ Lakefront Airport (KNEW): southeastward on a route that covered 11 locations of oil sightings from last Friday May 24.  Farthest target point was GPS waypoint #0580 at N27.95 W089.3 (approximately 135 nm at 165° from KNEW), in the Mississippi Canyon block south of Sackett Bank.  Enroute there, we detoured to track continuous heavy rainbow sheen in the vicinity of the chronic Taylor Energy slick, approximately 90 nm southeast of KNEW and about 12 nm off the coast of Louisiana. We tracked continuously from the start of the rainbow sheen at a northeast point where there is a marker buoy southward to a point over 10 nm south and eastward to about 5.5 nm. The sheen continued substantially farther and encompassed an area larger than our flight route. We discontinued tracking it after about 30 nm of continuous, unrepeated tracking.  The route back to KNEW was as direct as weather (thunderstorms) could permit. 
Flight distance covered: 331  nm within an area of 4,235 sq mi
See the full article posted at OnWingsOfCare.org for more details and for a link to our GPS flight track file.  

New (and previous from 20130524) Waypoints from today’s flight 20130603:
Special Notes:

  1. Wpt #s are from BLS’ flight GPS (Garmin 496). Those marked with an asterisk (*) are waypoints from our flight in this area of last Friday May 24 where we noticed oily surface sheen.  We planned to check out these points today, since seas were so calm and since we had not been able to look at them carefully on that flight (whose purpose had been to find whale sharks, not oil!).
  2. NRC report #1049216 was filed for the long rainbow slick at the Taylor Energy site.
    (Thanks to Florida resident and faithful Gulf and OWOC supporter Susan Forsyth for calling the report in to the USCG for us promptly, since we had to leave for out-of-state travel!)
  3.  Some specifics re the Taylor Energy site (see more details in the full article at OnWingsOfCare.org): The map of four flight tracks gives the true path of the part of the meandering 15-30-meter-wide band of thick rainbow sheen at this chronic pollution site that we followed.  We first flew up to the buoy at its northeast point of apparent beginning “the NE buoy”), then flew along the thickest band of oil we saw, moving southward. We do not know if there was significantly more oil east of our ~10-nm-long path southward. However, at about 10 nm southward, after we had found lots of oil sargassum mixed in with the oil at what seemed to be a natural convergence line along our path, we noticed heavy oil continuing eastward, and we followed it for about 5.5 nm.  Thus you see another large “loop” in our flight tracks beginning about 10 nm south from the NE buoy and going about 5.5 nm eastward. The oil continued eastward at that point, but we stopped following it because of time constraints on our flight, since we wanted to fly another 50 nm or so southward to check on some other locations of sheen that we had noticed the previous Friday May 24 on a whale-shark survey flight (see the flight log in the article for 2013 May 24).  As explained in our full article for today, the path of oil we followed alone was about 30 nm long, as proven by the details of our flight tracks. Since the line of rainbow oil along our tracks was between 15 and 30 m wide at all points along our flight, that would mean that the area of oil we witnessed was between 225 and 450 acres.  It is commonly assumed that for oil to be clearly visible on water from an altitude of 1000’-1500’ above, its thickness must be at least 1 micron. An acres of 1-micron thick substance is comparable to a volume of approximately 1 gallon. Thus, our flight path alone was witness to between 225 and 450 gallons of surface oil.
     
  4. SPERM WHALE!  We saw one long, large sperm whale cruising, near the southern most point of today, approximately N28.0° W89.17° at just before 1pm CDT (our GPS waypoint #604).  Enjoy the photos

  5. Several interesting vessels (e.g., HELIX) and platforms noted today; see the log below for their coordinates and times seen.

 

Wpt*

lat

lon

time

Description*
* = Notes from 20130524 flight

580*

27.94726091

-89.29694834

2013-05-24T20:14:01Z

Saw lines, but clouds and haze interfered.
*OIL sheen, extensive, arcs from NE ~2 nm then back up to NW for ~1 nm

581*

27.94213302

-89.29939259

2013-05-24T20:15:50Z

No rainbow seen.
*RAINBOW sheen in part of above sheen (#580)

583*

28.02264774

-89.17250155

2013-05-24T20:25:55Z

Some sheen lines, but visibility poor.
* Huge area of sheen, NE-SW ~ 4 nm, 100m+ wide (we passed through central area SW-NE)

584*

28.09001058

-89.15347581

2013-05-24T20:28:15Z

Line of sheen
* OIL

585*

28.10420726

-89.14890449

2013-05-24T20:28:43Z

Sheen seen, but cloud shadows and haze interfered.
* OIL - Rainbow, S-N curve, ~ 20-30 m wide (W-E)

588*

28.35883155

-89.11040045

2013-05-24T20:37:20Z

None seen.
*Surface sheen, NE-SW ~0.5 nm, ~20 m wide.

592*

28.62406505

-89.00197282

2013-05-24T21:19:20Z

None Seen.
* Surface oil sheen, NE-SW ~4 nm and then also to the W extending about 3 nm. HUGE!  (This is well south--maybe 10 nm south-- of the Taylor slick, but as large or larger!)

593*

28.8843793

-89.03090288

2013-05-24T21:28:15Z

(Taylor Energy) We followed a line of heavy rainbow sheen extensively! (See article above for details including coordinates and map of start and finish of track with rainbow sheen.) We tracked the heaviest rainbow sheen for at least 29.9 nm, never doubling up on our tracks.
* Taylor Energy slick, flew to buoy at NE end.

594*

29.40093856

-89.34231154

2013-05-24T21:50:24Z

None seen
*Rainbow oil slick, W-E ~100m x 10 m

595*

29.45596308

-89.40007844

2013-05-24T21:52:43Z

None seen (clouds/haze)
*Sheen extending from platform NW-SE ~ 4 m x 200 m

596*

29.5727514

-89.50972421

2013-05-24T21:57:16Z

None Seen
*Surface sheen

597

28.85761279

-89.01433898

2013-06-03T17:10:49Z

Rainbow sheen throughout Taylor - our flight paralleled it extensively.

598

28.82290232

-89.03650895

2013-06-03T17:19:41Z

Much sargassum here, with the oil.

599

28.79244056

-89.01377429

2013-06-03T17:22:44Z

Sargassum with the rainbow sheen.

600

28.62386984

-89.00260029

2013-06-03T17:34:40Z

Green-Blue water line

601

28.44644506

-89.03634349

2013-06-03T17:40:05Z

HELIX vessel

602

28.44720782

-89.04774455

2013-06-03T17:40:51Z

Noble Amos Runner + 2 supply boats (Ocean Patriot &Cheramie Botruc 41), + 1 fishing boat

603

28.23466321

-89.11695343

2013-06-03T17:48:01Z

Noble Jim Day+ supply boat (C Leader) + 1 fishing boat

604

27.99686442

-89.16948055

2013-06-03T17:56:56Z

SPERM WHALE! (single)

605

28.15077092

-89.3950519

2013-06-03T18:09:49Z

? 3 sharks? (not hammerhead)

606

28.88991538

-89.78754566

2013-06-03T18:34:21Z

Brownish-red streaks/plumes near surface (S of Grand Isle ~20 nm)

 

NOTE on estimating oil sheen/slick volumes:
1 acre x 1 micron ~ 1 gal.   263 gal = 1 m
3 = 1 micron x 1 km2; 1042 gal = 1 micron x 1 nm2;

1 nm ~ 2 km ~ 6000 ft ~ 1.15 statute mile (sm).  (1 micron is easily visible from above.)

1 acre ~ 36,000 ft2 ~ 120 ft x 300 ft ~ 30 m x 100 m.   1000 acres ~ 4 km2 ~ 1 nm2.


 

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