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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

Read the article and see all the photos and videos here!