2012 November 10, Saturday
Gulf of Mexico -- East Bay, Taylor, Macondo to Green Canyon
No two days of flying in the Gulf of Mexico are the same. Yesterday we reveled in smooth seas and mostly clear skies, with excellent lighting and visibility for seeing surface oil slicks. Today, winds were picking up, seas were growing choppy, and the sky was mostly overcast, making for very poor lighting and visibility for surface oil slicks. But today was the day that our scientific colleagues were able to make it from Florida State University for a flight, with all of their sophisticated observing instruments. And even though we didn’t get photographic footage that would impress the untrained eye, we obtained some valuable scientific information.
For starters, we located the source of a substantial oil leak in East Bay, just off the coast of Louisiana. Our report to the US Coast Guard resulted in the responsible company promising to repair it immediately.
Next, we showed our colleagues the infamous chronic Taylor Energy slick. Despite the very poor lighting, the enormous expanse of this oil slick was still obvious, and our belly cameras saw plenty of the telltale rainbow lines and patches of oil. We have a youtube video below to show you an example of what our belly cameras saw while flying over the Taylor Energy slick.
We joined our colleagues aboard the R/V Falkor again out at the infamous Deepwater Horizon wellhead in that section of the Gulf known as MC252 (Mississippi Canyon block number). Dr. Ian MacDonald and his colleagues had been working nonstop since yesterday when we had used our aerial vantage point to lead their small sampling boat around the slick yesterday, and they had learned much. Today we left them a small care package with some equipment they needed, and they told us that they had succeeded in tracking the sub-surface plumes to a source that appeared to be in some salt domes a mile or two east-northeast of the wellhead. They had also explored the wellhead carefully and found it to be free of active leaks. Quotes from Dr. MacDonald can be found in our update to yesterday’s article, here. Our reports of this new and significant slick in MC252 have resulted in the US Coast Guard requesting that BP carry out another more careful investigation to determine the source of this surface oil, which investigation will include a careful survey of the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon. We look forward to learning more from these future careful surveys, and hope that scientists do not find evidence for widespread damage to the seafloor.
From here, we flew nearly 200 miles southwest to the “Green Canyon” area of the Gulf, where there are other known natural oil seeps of considerable size. Along the way, we revisited “MC709”, a natural seep site that had shown plenty of oil in yesterday’s flight. Despite today’s poor visibility, it was not difficult for our trained eyes and looking from above to see these natural seeps. As signifcant as they are, notice how subtle they are compared to the human-caused oil slicks:
By far the biggest natural oil seeps in this part of the Gulf are near Green Canyon blocks 600 and 767. (See yesterday’s article for more photos of natural oil seeps in the MC and GC areas of the Gulf.) The oblique photo below shows GC600 as we saw it from the air a month ago, on October 5 (see that article here). The overhead photo below is a sample of what our belly cameras saw today. The GC600 slick is comparable in size to what we found in MC252 near the Deepwater Horizon wreckage in these recent flights. But the seafloor in the two areas differs significantly, GC600 is not littered with drilling and blowout debris like MC252.
Since the overcast sky was only growing darker, we headed back to New Orleans from here. Our Florida scientists enjoyed the beautiful views of the Louisiana wetlands, despite the poor lighting which preclude impressive photographs. But flying up the mighty Mississippi in the crisp late afternoon air did offer a lovely personal view of the beautiful city of New Orleans.
Our Flight Log for today is appended below, and our GPS Flight tracks can be downloaded here.
Here are more photos and videos from the major slick areas noted above. Many thanks to Dr. Jeff Chanton and Ms. Samira Daneshgar from Florida State University for joining us and providing some of these photos. And our continuing thanks to Brayton Matthews and his employees at Flightline First of New Orleans’ Lakefront Airport for helping us set up the belly cameras and helping us make these Gulf overflights efficiently and safely.
To begin, here are large-scale and close-up Google Earth maps showing our flight path today, with the primary oil sights marked. (The exact positions of all of these sights can be obtained in our Flight Log, appended below, or in even more detail by downloading our GPS Flight Tracks here.
First, the East Bay platform leak we found:
Then the Taylor Energy slick: This video and some of these photos show some of what our belly cameras saw as we flew over the Taylor Energy slick.
Here are photos from the Macondo area today:
Here is the natural oil seep known as MC709.
And here is that large natural seep area in Green Canyon. These photos are of GC600 and vicinity.
Finally, the wetlands as they looked to us in the dim overcast lighting on our return, and the beautiful city of New Orleans.
On Wings Of Care Flight Log for 20121110 Saturday
Survey of Gulf of Mexico known natural seep sites
plus DWH/MC252 area of recently reported surface slicks
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 & Personnel: Dr. Bonny Schumaker with Samira Daneshgar and Dr. Jeff Chanton, researchers and colleagues of Dr. Ian MacDonald of Florida State University, Tallahassee.
Seas and weather: Seas 2-4 ft, mostly overcast, 10-15 kt winds from the south-southwest.
Visibility: Air fair, sea fair, overcast sky made lighting poor for viewing slicks. Flight time: 6.1 hours
Flight route: KNEW - Taylor Energy & vicinity- DWH & Seep Sites in vicinity (~10-nm radius circumference) - MC709 - GC600 - GC767 - Timbalier Bay - 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).
Second Gulf flyover by On Wings Of Care (first one was yesterday), to survey recently documented surface oil slicks and known natural seep sites including some in the vicinity of MC252 (site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 April), as well as a recently reported oil slick in East Bay off the tip of Louisiana, the chronic Taylor Energy oil leak south of Breton Sound, and several other known and previously documented leaks and natural seeps on a route that extended nearly 175 miles to the southwest into Green Canyon. For more info on the MC252 area, see the OWOC article from yesterday’s flight here (http://onwingsofcare.org/protection-a-preservation/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-2010/gulf-2012/324-20121109-oil-left-deepwater-horizon.html). With us today were scientists and colleagues of Dr. Ian MacDonald Jeff Chanton and Samira Danesghar of Florida State University, who brought their specially modified viewing instruments fitted to belly viewers and photo windows. We also brought OWOC’s own Sony HD Video cam fitted to one of the two belly viewers.
Some of the locations of known natural seeps displayed significant surface oil, some did not. Due to the overcast clouds, slick visibility was poor in general everywhere. Nevertheless, significant surface oil was again observed over an area centered less than 0.75 nm northeast of the DWH sinking site. Discussion with scientists aboard the R/V Falkor, which was situated directly atop the former BP wellhead, indicated that their subsurface observations of the plumes below the surface slick suggested a nearby source to the east 1-3 miles near salt domes, and that the wellhead did not appear to be leaking significant oil. See update in yesterday’s article for some interesting quotes from Dr. MacDonald on how the very disturbed seafloor in this area looked.
We also saw significant amounts of oil near known seeps in the Green Canyon areas. Near the Louisiana coast, we found the source of a significant oil leak from an unused platform in East Bay, and the chronic Taylor Energy slick remains an unmistakable eyesore. A belly cam video of the Taylor Energy slick can be seen: http://youtu.be/bB9clblBWcI . For more videos and photos of the Taylor Energy slick, see yesterday’s article (http://onwingsofcare.org/protection-a-preservation/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-2010/gulf-2012/324-20121109-oil-left-deepwater-horizon.html ) and many more previous articles documenting it.
20121110 - Waypoints of Interest
04201 N29 00.157 W89 16.491 1039 CST.
East Bay, just off the tip of Louisiana. Many (as in hundreds!) of small platforms, a few large ones, some of which look unused. Many small sandbars, at first we wondered if these might have looked like slicks on MODIS satellite data, and that the SkyTruth.org sightings could have been in error. But then we saw that one of them is leaking pretty seriously. Reported to NRC: #1030328. http://www.nrc.uscg.mil/reports/rwservlet?standard_web+inc_seq=1030328
Slick extends about 600 m in a northwestward direction from an old platform, about 10m wide. See photos.
(Follow-up from USCG: told us that they checked it out the next day, Sunday Nov 11, belongs to EPL, and EPL promised to repair! Yea! NRC reports work! )
0410. N28 55.971 W88 58.020 1051 CST.
Taylor Energy slick, this is roughly still the south-southwest end, where it appears to start. Rainbow sheen here at the west end, extending about 040° (magnetic) for at least 4.5 nm. Also has a leg that extends somewhat southward today. See photos.
0405. N28 50.771 W88 29.761 1110 CST.
Southwest of Whiting Dome. Saw significant slick here yesterday (many parallel streamers running southwest-northeast, each about 50m side by 2 nm long), but today the lighting is so poor that we could barely see surface oil.
MC166. N28 49.340 W88 17.660 1115 CST.
Northwest portion of Mitchell Dome. Could not detect surface oil, not sure whether due to overcast and poor lighting.
04211. N28 44.832 W88 21.614 1129 CST.
Still seeing a significant slick here (as yesterday), despite the very poor overcast lighting today.
This is where we saw some of the thickest rainbow surface oil, but relatively small patches of it (20 m by 20 m or so).
(N-NE corner is still approximately where it was yesterday, at GPS 0411 - N28 46.086 W88 20.654.)
04221. N28 44.186 W88 22.115 1132 CST.
This is directly over the wellhead, and is where the R/V Falkor was positioned at this time. A bit south-southwest of the slick.
(From here, see other points in yesterday’s flight log. Seeing was so poor today, that we did not detect or even try to photograph these other slicks and known natural seeps that were observed yesterday.)
MC294. N28 41.620 W88 29.090 1139 CST.
Northwest of Biloxi Dome.Significant surface oil seen again here (also seen yesterday Nov 09 and last Oct 05). Site of a known natural seep. Approximately 20 sizable streamers running W-E, the entire block runs more or less SE-NW, about 0.5 nm by 500 m wide. Similar to waht was observed 20121005.
MC331. N28 38.800 W88 49.770 1151 CST.
Saw oil here again, but very poor lighting. Parallel streamers, each running south-to north.
MC709. N28 14.440 W89 42.610 1217 CST.
HELIX vessel here again, moving eastward. Oil lines, approximately 10 of them each running south-to-north. About 600 nm long, each about 10 m wide.OIL. ~ 1.5 nm, E-W. Four sets of lines, all E-W. Just to the north there was a HELIX vessel, with another vessel. Laying cable, or working with a submersible?
04231. N28 01.555 W90 00.549 1230 CST.
Platform “Discoverer Americas” and one supply vessel. Small slick running northward. Flaring.
04241. N27 56.405 W90 09.913 1235 CST.
Oil lines, ~ 0.5-nm long south to north, parallel lines for about 1 nm wide (east to west). Rainbow and patties visible.
0232. N27 43.756 W90 32.907 1246 CST.
Oil here again today, many parallel lines running southeast-northwest, approximately 1 nm (se-nw) by ~600m (ne-sw).
04251. N27 35.806 W90 32.845 1252 CST.
Enroute to 0233 (previous waypoint of an oil slick).Ship, “Atlantic Ro-Ro Carrier”.
0233. N27 33.932 W90 34.923 1252 CST.
Oil here again today, ~ 7 parallel lines, ~ 0.5 nm long (nw-se), the patch is about 0.75 nm wide (ne-sw). Supply vessel and another vessel to the southeast of this slick.
GC600. N27 21.910 W90 33.850 1302 CST.
Still visible, but not as large and obvious as was yesterday due to today’s poor lighting. Slick was fairly uniform, about 1.5 nm long (NW-SE) by 0.5 nm wide (NE-SW).
4-0419. N27 15.895 W90 38.562
No obvious oil today, poor lighting. (Yesterday we saw a crescent-shaped slick extending to the south from this point.)
04261. N27 13.841 W90 48.118 1314 CST.
This was to the north of the point 4-0420 (N27 11.870 W90 48.086 ) that we overflew yesterday, and this point represented the northwest corner of these lines. Confirmed again what we saw yesterday at 4-0420 : at least four separate lines of oil and many more isolated lines between here and GC767. Drill ship to the north.
04271. N27 13.336 W90 52.340 1316 CST.
SE to NW line of oil.
GC767. N27 12.270 W91 00.500 1320 CST.
Lots of oil lines here, SE to NW. ~10-minute run from SE end at 1319 CST to NW end 1326 CST.
4-0421. N27 18.180 W91 01.493 1329 CST.
Saw no significant surface oil here today, but could be poor lighting. Yesterday, this was the South end of a slick running N-S, ~1 nm long, x 50 nm wide (E-W).
4-0422. N27 44.072 W91 05.902 1339 CST.
(Yesterday we saw a slick here, oriented west to east, ~1 nm long x 500 m wide. HELIX Explorer there, with ROV.)