2012 September 14, Friday
Gulf of Mexico, 50-150 miles southeast of New Orleans, LA
The R/V Endeavor (a UNOLS vessel operated by the University of Rhode Island) has been busy in the Gulf off of Louisiana again, studying natural and not-so-natural oil seeps and the status of the ocean floor. They contacted us a few days ago to advise us that they found themselves sitting in a surface oil slick, in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) "spill" site of April 2010. Today was the first day we could arrange to fly out there, and yes, we did indeed find oil slicks in that good old MC252 quadrant. We hope to learn from their samples whether the surface oil there is from long-existing natural seeps, or whether it is from the reservoir that unleashed its contents just 2.5 years ago.
Here are maps of today's 3.9-hour flight. We flew to the DWH site via Breton Sound, to check out some suspiciously slick-looking areas near there, according to MODIS satellite data. We didn't stop to look around carefully, but we didn't see any obvious surface oil in this area. But what was unusual was how high the water seemed to be. The usual islands were scarcely visible. Fortunately, we had heard that the tides were unusually high today, so we were relieved not to have to think that this situation was some permanent consequence of Hurricane Isaac.
On reaching the DWH site, we immediately saw two surface oil slicks, separated from each other by about a mile. The first one was about a third of a mile long and about 100 meters wide, the other a bit smaller. The water was choppy, and it was difficult to get good footage of the slicks from the air. We also saw another slick a bit northwest of here on our way back. Here are a few still photos of those slicks. More are in the photo galleries below.
All platforms in this area were flaring today. We went as far southwest as the BP "Thunderhorse" platform, which was also flaring. There was a supply boat there (the Kore Chouest) and a clearly visible, substantial oil slick extending westward several hundred meters, perhaps caused by something they were discharging. (See video of this also, below.)
Returning back via the Chandeleur Islands, we came across some very strange-looking expanses of dark murky water, huge expanses of it stretching for miles and miles, with "fuzzy" jagged lines, not like ordinary convergence lines. We saw similar things in this area in the spring of 2011, except at that time it was dark reddish-brown, but today it was dark green. This is probably what the folks at Skytruth.org had told us they had been seeing on the MODIS satellite imagery in this area. We hope someone more knowledgeable about these things will head out and sample it or advise us what it is! See the video and more photos of this strange dark green stuff below.
The unusually high tide was manifest at the Chandeleurs also. At least we hope that's what it was, else Isaac really tore up this lovely chain of islands. For today, there was not much to see of them; they looked more like shallow sandbars than islands. Lovely Breton island barely remained above water.
For the entire trip, we barely saw a bird, and we saw no wildlife in the water at all.
It was a great pleasure to be in the air and over the water and beautiful wetlands again today. But feelings were mixed, as it is always sad to see so little wildife when we remember seeing so much here in 2010. We wonder what it was like before 2010 and wish we could have seen it then!
More photos and videos from today are shown below the Flight Log. Our GPS Flight tracks can be downloaded by clicking on the main menu item "Flight Tracks" -- or clicking here.
Many thanks to the folks at Skytruth.org for noticing the strange MODIS satellite images south of the Chandeleurs, and to FlightlineFirst at New Orleans' Lakefront airport for helping make this On Wings Of Care flight possible!
**** FLIGHT LOG - OWOC Gulf Flight 20120914 ****
On Wings Of Care Flight Log for 20120914 Friday
Survey of DWH site to Thunderhorse, Chandeleurs and Breton Sound
KNEW to Breton Sound, DWH, Thunderhorse, Chandeleurs
All waypoint numbers below refer to the GPS tracks shown in today's article at OnWingsOfCare.org.
Times are given in CDT.
Lat/lons are given in degrees and decimal minutes.
Aircraft: Bonny Schumaker with Brayton Matthews of On Wings Of Care.
Seas and weather: Seas 1 ft, scattered high clouds, 5-15 kt winds from the northeast-north.
Visibility: Air good, sea good (the usual muddy in coastal areas).
Flight time: 3.9 hours
Flight route: KNEW - Breton Sound- DWH (MC252) - Thunderhorse - Chandeleurs - KNEW
Maps of our route showing the following waypoints identified during our flight, plus some relevant waypoints from previous flights, are in today's article (including a link to our GPS track file).
0393. 1455 CDT. N29 08.327 W88 47.033
Large vessel pulling a medium-size vessel (!)
****0394. 1514 CDT. N28 44.297 W88 22.828
Surface oil sheen, ~ 100m wide, ~400m long, SE to NW.
****Another smaller surface slick about a mile farther to the SE,
~50m wide, ~100 m long.
0395. 1523 CDT. N28 43.209 W88 20.487
Platform flaring, supply boat "Ms Lauren". BP - MC474A. Sheen nearby.
0396. 1542 CDT. N28 24.947 W88 13.382
MODU (Drilling rig) "Sandhill West Capricorn"
0397. 1545 CDT. N28 20.249 W88 15.709
"Blind Faith MC650" platform, flaring.
0398. 1549 CDT. N28 15.926 W88 23.617
"27?58 Murphy" platform, flaring.
0399. 1551 CDT. N28 14.378 W88 27.631
Drillship "Deepwater Pathfinder"
0400. 1556 CDT. N28 12.166 W88 29.970
"Thunderhorse - BP", flaring. Nearby vessel "Kore Chouest".
Slick extending from it to the west, several hundred meters.
0401. 1559 CDT. N28 14.531 W88 28.482
Drill ship, moving slowly (Deepwater Pathfinder, again)
0402. 1601 CDT. N28 14.104 W88 24.259
Eastbound vessel "Busy Bee"
0403. 1606 CDT. N28 19.814 W88 23.082
NOAA research vessel "Endeavor", southbound (destination about four miles farther south; we communicated by radio)
0404. 1615 CDT. N28 25.071 W88 24.600
Tug pushing a tanker which had "Crowley" written on the side of something on deck. Couldn't see other name on tanker or tug.
****0405. 1633 CDT. N28 50.771 W88 29.761
OIL. ~50m by ~500m, running SW-NE.
0406. 1654 CDT. N29 23.320 W88 43.468
****0407. 1659 CDT. N29 33.847 W88 48.396
Strange dark stuff everywhere, for miles, SW-NE and extending NW, in this area to the south and southeast of the Chandeleurs.
****0408. 1704 CDT. N29 42.032 W88 49.659
More of this strange dark cloudy stuff -- and not a cloud in the sky, so definitely not shadows! ~10 miles wide and ~10 miles long, at least. Extends north to the Chandeleur islands. NO birds around here at all.
0409. 1707 CDT. N29 43.864 W88 50.641
Just south of the Chandeleurs - platform.
The Chandeleur islands barely protrude above water.
Not at all what they looked like in 2010!