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2013 January 27, Sunday
Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River, Louisiana

Today we had a wonderful treat. Our hard-working colleague and Gulf heroine Trisha James and her husband Mark joined us for a flight over the Gulf! On our way southward, we took a little extra time to check out some spots of concern along the Mississippi River, thanks to an alert from Scott Eustis of the Gulf Restoration Network. So in addition to what we can show you about offshore Louisiana today, you'll see some photos of two large coal terminals along the east bank of the Mississippi, as well as a new pass that the river is building in Bohemia, downriver of where the levee ends. You'll also see a dramatic wetlands fire that surprised us on our return back.

Unfortunately there are still some troubling sites offshore.  The chronic Taylor Energy slick remains a heinous pollution situation, and today's quiet seas revealed that slick to be larger in size than it has looked to us before.  What looks to be a natural seep about 10 miles southwest of the Macondo area, which we discovered last week, remains as it looked last week.  But the most troubling vision today was the Macondo area itself.  The slick that we had first noticed last fall, which was spreading over the area within a half-mile or so of the scene of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, was huge today. It stretched over 7 nautical miles in the south-north direction and was almost a mile wide in some spots. There were some patches of rainbow sheen and even some weathered oil (brownish "mousse"), although overall it remained a light surface sheen.  The ENSCO8502 drilling rig is still working in MC253 there; its presence provides scale in the photos.

Here are a few introductory photos of these sites.  Many more photos, plus a video of the Macondo area, are in the full article below.  Many thanks to Trisha and Mark for coming all the way from Florida to join us today, and to both of them for taking photos and video! 

The two large coal piles we examined are the Kinder Morgan International Marine Terminal and United Bulk Coal Terminal.  We are told that there are plans to expand these coal (and pet coke) terminals by nearly 400%, into Plaquemines Parish. Such coal terminals have been stopped in other parts of the country such as the northwest, for environmental protection reasons. Is this a case of Louisiana being willing to sacrifice and take risks that other more cautious states have refused? 

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A little farther down the river we checked out a new pass that the river is building in Bohemia, on the east bank, downriver of where the levee ends -- appropriately called Mardi Gras Pass.  This new river is sustaining the wetlands beyond it, and it is also happy home to many otters.  It is threatened, however, by an oil company road that would fill it. That road construction was not exactly impressive, as you'll see in the photos below.  

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Before we reached the southern tip of Louisiana, and as we approached the eastern shores, we saw our first significant oil slick. We reported this to the National Response Center as the first of what would be four reports from today; this one was NRC Incident Report #1036761. We'll post a photo of it by tomorrow.

Our first stop offshore was the chronic Taylor Energy slick, barely off the southern tip of Louisiana.  This slick looked larger than we’ve seen it in many months.  The calm seas of the past few days have allowed surface slicks to remain visible, and the spatial extent of this one is shocking. (This was our NRC Incident Report #1036762.)

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As we approached the Macondo area, we first flew a few miles west to see if the new small slick we had seen ther last Sunday remained.  Sure enough, it does, same size and same place.  Perhaps this is a new natural seep? (This was NRC Incident Report #1036760 for today.)

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Arriving at the scene of the 2010 April BP disaster, near the infamous lease block "MC252", we saw the most dramatic and disturbing site of all. This surface slick now stretches more than 7 nm in length south to north and is over a mile wide in many places.  There are patches of rainbow and weathered “mousse” in it as well, which we have not seen out there for many months.  (This was NRC Incident Report #1036763, our fourth and final report for today.)

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We returned on a direct path toward New Orleans, over Breton Island and the “city” of platforms in that vicinity.  There were some dramatic marsh fires in the wetlands as we approached New Orleans, one of them adjacent to what looked like an abandoned refinery. We didn't get a great photo of that one, but the second fire, just a bit farther north, seemed to grow before our eyes.

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Here are the usual Google Earth maps showing our route.  Our exact GPS flight tracks can be downloaded here, and our Flight Log is appended at the bottom of this article.

Here are the coal terminals along the Mississippi River:

Here is Mardi Gras pass:



Here is the Taylor Energy pollution site as it looked today:


Here is that small slick (natural seep?) about 10 miles southwest of the MC252 area:


Here are photos and a video of that huge surface oil slick in the Macondo area now:


Here are some closer views of the surface oil in the Macondo area:


Finally, here is the marshland fire we came upon on our return flight to New Orleans:


*****   Update 20130129:  Trisha James has posted her photos from this flight for all to enjoy!  Thank you, Trisha!  See them here!  
 

****** Here is a transcript of our Flight Log.  ******

On Wings Of Care Flight Log for 20130127 - Sunday
Overflight of Gulf of Mexico Taylor Energy & MC252 areas

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.
Personnel: Dr. Bonny Schumaker with Trisha James and Mark James
Seas and weather:  Seas 1-2 ft, winds ~15 kts from the east-southeast.
Sky & Visibility: A few scattered clouds, 15-mile visibility
Flight time:  3.0 hours
Flight route: KNEW - MS River - Taylor Energy & vicinity- MC252 & vicinity - KNEW

20130120 -  Waypoints of Interest

KNEW - Lakefront Airport

-- Southeastward across Black Bay

-- 0449 (Taylor Energy)

-- ADIZ:  ~N28 53  W088 33 or ~ 90 nm southeast (~135°) from KNEW

-- MC252 and vicinity
......

KNEW

ADIZ crossing:  ~N28°55’, W088°52’ (KNEW - ~90 nm, ~135°).
Destination (for DVFR flight plan):  MC252 (KNEW ~120 nm ~130°)

____________________

South-southeastward from KNEW, down the MS river:

Two large coal piles:
Kinder Morgan International Marine Terminal (KDRM):  N29 37.436 W89 55.104  1202 CST.
United Bulk Coal Terminal (UBCT):  N29 37.100 W89 53.464 
We didn’t notice any particular river pollution from either of these operations.


Mardi Gras Pass (MGRAS):  N29 31.771 W89 43.622  1213 CST.

 

0469. (NRC #1 -Incident Report # 1036761): N29 28.082 W89 37.638  1216 CST.

Small slick near a gas platform, silvery sheen with rainbow, ~ 10 m x 30 m long. (Actual position was about 1 nm northeast of this point)

 

0470.  N29 24.838 W89 33.712  1219 CST.
Sheen, unknown source, looked like a 100-m long  thin line just off shore to the east of our position about one mile. We did not take the time to overfly and photograph so did not file an NRC report on this one.

 

0471. N29 21.417 W89 29.777 1222 CST.
Dredging operation in the MS River.

0472. N29 04.397 W89 07.503 1237 CST.
Deep brown streamers and plumes in the muddy water just offshore, similar to what we first saw in the spring of 2011 in Breton Sound.

Taylor Energy (NRC #2 -Incident Report #1036762): N28 54.552 W88 59.451 (and vicinity) 1245 CST.

This slick is noticeable from many miles away.  It stretched farther than we’ve ever seen it stretch before.  We didn’t notice as much heavy rainbow sheen as we have before, but it stretched north-northeastward farther than we’ve noticed before, at least two miles (2 nm).  Our flight track paralleled the slick and will show its shape as it existed today.

0473.  N28 43.279 W88 31.449  1305 CST.
Small amount of sargassum and patties located just north of a crescent-shaped slick (0474).

0474. (NRC#3 - Incident Report #1036760) N28 42.174 W88 29.147 1306 CST.

Same place we saw a surface slick last Sunday Jan 20 (that waypoint was 0464) -- located about 10 nm southwest of the Macondo area, just south of MC294.  This remains a sizable slick, silvery grey sheen, looks like it could be a natural seep.  bout 15 m wide by 0.5 nm long (northwest to southeast).  Note that this was reported to the NRC last Jan 20 by us as NRC #1036178) and was our waypoint 0464 (N28 40.750 W88 28.729). 

0475. (NRC#4
-Incident Report #1036763) N28 44.825 W88 22.467 1316 CST.

These points -- 0475--0479 -- mark perimeter points of this very large surface sheen near MC253, except that it extended farther to the northeast than 0479, to the line shown by our flight track. This sheen extended more than 7 nm south-to-north and was easily as wide as 1 nm in places. It is considerably larger than we found it to be last Sunday January 20.  At that time, we filed an NRC report #1036177 and stated the following: “Looking northeastward, we see the slick extending southeastward from the ENSCO 8502 rig (~150°).  It extends at least 2 nm in the NW-SE direction.  It is almost 1 nm wide at its NW end (nearer the rig) and tapers to about 0.25 nm wide at its SE end. Metallic-gray streamers, otherwise light sheen, fairly uniform color.”


0476.  N28 47.183 W88 22.397 1317 CST.
(See description for 0475.)

0477.  N28 48.188 W88 22.802 1317 CST.
(See description for 0475.)

0478. N28 49.375 W88 22.952 1318 CST.
(See description for 0475.)


0479. N28 51.013 W88 23.587 1319 CST.
(See description for 0475.)

0480. N29 15.815 W88 57.120 1352 CST.
Buoy in water, but line was floating behind it about 30 m.

0481. N29 50.075 W89 41.939 1415 CST.
Marsh fires - one adjacent to what looked like an abandoned refinery, one north of that in wetlands.