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2013 April 02 Tuesday
Gulf of Mexico off of Louisiana

UPDATE (20130420) - "Belly viewer" video of the Taylor Energy slick has now been added!   See below.

For weeks, we had planned to fly the Gulf on Wednesday April 03, in conjunction with a high-altitude flight of NASA's Unmanned Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) and some satellite radar passes, over a long rectangular area that extended from Lake Pontchartrain southeastward to several miles south of the  Macondo area, covering also most of the Taylor Energy site. The gusty thunderstorms here made that impossible, but fortunately we all squeezed in our flights the afternoon of Tuesday Apr 02, even the Gulfstream 3 with the UAVSAR, whose crew had to fly their lines at the end of an already-long commute up from central America. Nearly simultaneous viewing is desired in order to compare what we see visually (half-micron-scale wavelengths) and what the radars see at their meter-scale wavelengths. By understanding the correlated signatures of both visible and radar data, we are able to make more accurate interpretations of data from one or the other data source alone, in searches for oil slicks and sheen.

While we at On Wings Of Care love to support such good science, the primary reason we continue to fly the Gulf is because not a day goes by that we don't wonder how the wildlife are doing, how the entire Gulf ocean ecosystem is faring.  We have become deeply concerned that in the past two years we have not been seeing the numbers or varieties of marine life that we saw in 2010, at all times of year. We are hoping against all odds that when summer rolls around in the Gulf of Mexico, we may again see large pods of dolphins, families of sperm whales, sharks, sea turtles, whale sharks and rays and other plankton feeders, and much more. On this flight, we saw just one "bait ball" of small fish, and that was very near shore and in shallow water, next to an old rusty, unidentifiable platform. (Photos and lat/long are given below.) Far offshore, the blue water was clear and lovely, and seas were calm with waves no higher than 1-2 ft.  Despite such clear water and our looking hard, we saw not a fin nor flipper.  

But there may still be reason to hope, for we also saw no more surface sheen in the Macondo area! The last time we saw extensive sheen there was this past March 08. We would like to think that this means the slicks we found and documented from last September through this past March were from residual matter in the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon rather than any fresh leaks from the seafloor, and that the residue is now exhausted. Perhaps now, finally, the area can begin to heal.

We did see many narrow lines of light sheen along our route to the east and northeast of MC252 -- lines that we've presumed in the past to be "natural" seeps. Well seeps, anyway. With as much drilling as has occurred here in the past 10-50 years, there may be many a seep now that was not "naturally" here say, 50 years ago. We've documented the locations of these lines of sheen in our Flight Log, appended below. We did not report them to the NRC/USCG, in part because we just did not have time to do that after the flight and also because they do not seem to be pollution incidents.  

To satisfy your curiosity about the title of this article: We found the ENSCO 8502! This is the drilling rig that was working very near MC252 late last year and into February of this year, but which had vanished when we flew last March 08. It has moved about 20 miles to the east and is drilling anew around "Dauphin Dome." (See the fourth photo above.) It was making quite a mess -- the spray looked like a rig fire in the distance, which is what made us decide to detour from our original flight plans to check it out. Just before we reached the ENSCO 8502 we came upon a vessel, the "WC COLUMBUS", towing a large seismic array. Drilling seems to be alive and well in the Gulf. 

The Taylor Energy site just off the tip of Louisiana was its usual eyesore. (See the middle two photos above and many more below.) It is still unfathomable to us that that egregious pollution has not been or cannot be stopped. The surface slick stretched at least two nautical miles SW-NE and was at least a half-mile at its widest part. You'll see the bright orange buoy in our photos, marking the eastern end and apparent point-like origin of the oil, stretching and ever-widening in its menacing shiny rainbow.

We did report one new pollution incident for this flight -- a significant rainbow-metallic slick in northern Black Bay,  near shore off the eastern coast of Louisiana. (See GPS#0532 in our Flight Log below and the first photo above.)  

We saw one small bait ball around an old rusty unidentifiable platform in shallow water abeam the tip of the delta (see GPS#0548). It was the first sign of marine life we saw all day, and the first distinct bait ball we’ve seen in many weeks, maybe months!  It was small fish, maybe herring. The seas were 1-2 ft, the blue water was crystal blue, almost as lovely as we’ve ever seen it on our successful whale-shark tracking days. Let us hope that it is just too early in the year for the marine mammal and large plankton feeders to be here in the Gulf!

Maps of today's flight are provided below, with additional photos and a video of the Taylor Energy site. Our GPS Flight tracks can be downloaded here.  As always, please contact us if you have any questions, or if you would like to use any of our photos or videos to help raise public awareness and to benefit the Gulf and the planet. (Email us at:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or use the "Contact" button on our website's main menu.)

Special thanks for making this flight possible go to HOSSFLY -- the Historica Ocean Springs Saltwater FLYFishing organization out of Ocean Springs, MS, a strongly conservation-oriented group of folks who love these coastal waters and islands about as much as anybody can.  Thank you HOSSFLY!
 

Here are some of our favorite photos from today, preceded by the maps of our flight.  (The rectangular overlays are today's and past high-altitude UAVSAR flights in the area.) 

 

Here is a video of the Taylor Energy slick as it looked today, Tuesday April 2 around noon CDT:



UPDATE (20130420) - Here is our "belly viewer" video of the Taylor Energy slick.
Sorry it took us so long to get this posted; it got lost in lots of subsequent work!  

Note that this nadir-looking view is kind of like a satellite picture taken from just 800-1000' above.  It's not as natural a view for the human eye, which is accustomed to looking at things obliquely.  But it is more useful for scientists who use these vertical views to study properties of the oil. In a way, it makes it even more horrifying!

 

Finally, here are additional photos of all sites mentioned above plus more that are mentioned in the Flight Log, plus some more special ones we thought you might enjoy seeing, such as white pelicans, the mighty Mississippi River,and her surrounding wetlands --all sights that feed our spirits every precious time we get to see them.  The order of these photo galleries follows pretty much the order of the flight and the items noted in the Flight Log appended below.

Here is the first pollution slick we saw, in northern Black Bay:


Here is the Taylor Energy slick as it looked today. Most of these photos are taken looking to the north or the west. Note the bright orange buoy marking the apparent point of origin at the east end.

Here are some sites of interest as we flew from Taylor out to the Macondo area.  The Amberjack and Matterhorn platforms in past years have been great fishing areas that also attracted whale sharks. The ship called 'David' is from New Orleans.


In the  Macondo area, the only rigs are the MODU ENSDO DS-3 which has been here for many months, about 10 nm south of MC252, and the BP Nakiki production platform (MC474A):


East and northeast of the Macondo area, we saw many long narrow lines of seeps.  Here are pictures of four such distinct lines or groups of lines, as well as photos of the WC COLUMBUS towing a very large seismic array, and the ENSCO 8502, apparently busily drilling near the Dauphin Dome.


On our way back northward toward land, we passed another BP productionn platform (MC127), saw a pretty decent string of sargassum, and finally, as we neared the southeast coast of Louisiana, we found a sizable baitball of small fish around a rusty old, unidentifiable platform:


Enjoy these view of the "shallows", as blue water turns to green and green water turns to muddy water and wetlands.  We never tire of this beauty:


Here is a potpourri of sights we enjoyed as we made our way down the state from New Orleans, paralleling the mighty Mississippi River out to sea. There are many old vessels stuck in the middle of wetlands from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and a few sunken boats and barges. The wetlands are so beautiful that they seem to lend a romantic tinge even to all of the abandoned and in-use gas and oil platforms.


And the best for last: It is a great day when we see birds.  Enjoy these with us:

 

 

****** On Wings Of Care Flight Log for 20130402a-Tuesday ****** 
Overflight of Gulf of Mexico:   Taylor Energy, MC252 and vicinity
(followed immediately by a flyover of Bayou Corne, LA -- see separate article)

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 J. Brayton Matthews of Flightline First, New Orleans’ Lakefront Airport (KNEW)
Seas and weather:  Seas 1-2 ft, winds 15 kts from the south-southeast.  
Sky & Visibility: Mostly clear but hazy skies,  5-10-mile visibility
Flight time:  4.5 hours (3.1  hours for the Gulf plus 1.4 hours devoted to Bayou Corne, LA)
Flight route: KNEW - southeast to Taylor Energy, south to MC331 and east to Macondo area, northwest to Bayou Corne, LA -   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).

 

Summary:

This was a Gulf flyover by On Wings Of Care to complement a planned high-altitude UAVSAR flight as well as two satellite RadarSAT passes over areas of the Gulf including the Macondo prospect an the chronic Taylor Energy slick.  We also wanted to check on our own and other reported recent sheen sightings in the  Macondo area and the Taylor Energy site. 
We found a small but significant oil slick in the near-shore part of northern Black Bay, for which we filed an NRC report. It was near a small production platform, whose identification we could not read. (See photos and GPS #0532 below.)

The Taylor Energy site was its usual awful-looking  scene.  An orange buoy was placed at the point-like apparent origin on the E-NE end of the sheen, which extended at least 2 nm NW-SE, and was as wide as 0.5 nm (NE-SW) at its widest point. Most of our photos were taken looking W or N.

Recall that on 2013 Mar 08, our flight found significant surface sheen in the  Macondo area. On 2013 Mar 16, we saw little or no sheen there.  Today, too, we found no pervasive surface sheen in the Macondo area.  In the area slightly to the east of MC252, however, we saw many narrow lines of sheen, which we hitherto have referred to as “seeps.”  We don’t recall seeing this many here before; they are very light.  The ENSCO 8502 drilling rig, which was near MC252 from late last year through February of 2013, has now moved to the east and is drilling again.  About 10-12 nm south of MC252, the ENSCO DS-3 MODU and the BP Nakiki production platform (MC474A) did not appear to be surrounded by any significant sheen.

Not quite as far east as the ENSCO 8502 we came upon a vessel (the WC COLUMBUS) towing a large seismic array, traveling southeastward.

We saw one small bait ball around an old rusty unidentifiable platform in shallow water abeam the tip of the delta (see GPS#0548). The first sign of life all day, and the first distinct bait ball we’ve seen in many weeks, maybe months!  Looked like small fish, maybe herring. Other than that, we again saw NO marine life. The seas were 1-2 ft, the blue water was crystal blue, almost as lovely as we’ve ever seen it on our successful whale-shark tracking days. Let us hope that it is just too early in the year for the marine mammal and large plankton feeders to be here in the Gulf!

20130402 -  Waypoints of Interest
(Total route:  ~484 nm total)

-- KNEW
-- South-southeastward eastward across Black Bay
-- Taylor Energy (today the heaviest sheen was from GPS #0523 East to 0524)
-- ADIZ:  ~ N28 55  W088 50 or ~ 90 nm southeast (~135°) from KNEW
-- MC252 and vicinity
-- Northwest to Bayou Corne, LA
--KNEW

**NRC1-#_____  0532:  N29 38.414 W89 33.825 1140 CDT.
Sheen about 10 miles to the N-NW of a small production platform (gas?). About 600m long by 50m wide.  Rainbow and gray-metallic.  (See photos.)

0533:  N29 34.374 W89 30.461  1145 CDT.
Helis Oil & Gas Black Bay Central Facility. (See photo _JBM1960.)  No pollution noticed.

0534:  N29 07.218 W89 05.262   1206 CDT.
Looks like a sunken barge, up against the shoreline?

0535:  N29 03.649 W89 03.421  1209 CDT.
Photo taken looking west - long convergence line with foamy organic matter. Resembles what we’ve seen behind pogey boats, but no fishing boats in sight.

0536:  N29 02.072 W89 02.051  1210 CDT.
Many parallel foamy lines, looking eastward.  They resemble what would be seen in high-wind conditions as “spindrift”, but seas are calm!


0537:  N28 57.573 W88 58.646  1213 CDT.
Southeast end of the Taylor slick today.  First photos taken looking W-NW.  Orange buoy at the E-SE end of the slick, marking the apparent point-like origin.

0538:  N28 55.188 W89 02.883  1216 CDT.
Northwest corner of the Taylor slick. The apparent line through the slick is the wake of a large vessel that transited it just prior to our arrival from east to west (it is still in the western edge of our photos). The vessel was “NIKOS” from Hong Kong.

--> The Taylor slick was at least 2 nm long (NW to SE) and about 0.5 nm wide (NE-SW) in its widest area.

0539:  N28 51.710 W88 55.936  1238 CDT.
Stone Energy platform MC109A -- “AMBERJACK”. Plus a fishing boat.

(no GPS #):  N 28 44.536 W88 49.538 1245 CDT.
“MATTERHORN” rig MC243A, plus two supply boats and a fishing boat.  Flaring. (Also there appear to be one crane and one derrick, in addition to the flare tower on this platform.)

0541:  N28 44.233 W88 20.896  1302 CDT.
Eastbound vessel “David” from New Orleans.

0542:  N28 37.311 W88 20.508  1307 CDT.
Sargassum lines -- thin lines with small patties.

(No new GPS #s for the MC252 area; see previous flights)

ENSCO DS-3 MODU and the BP production platform “NAKIKI” MC474A:

Nakiki was flaring; slight discharge to the W-NW about 150 m long.  Supply vessel “C Captain”.

0543:  N28 37.266 W88 13.860  1315 CDT.
East end of narrow line of sheen - a (natural?) seep.  About 150m long by 30 m wide.  Also many sets of roughly-parallel narrow lines of sheen to the E-SE of here.  Six of them over about a 2-nm wide area, each one about 150-200 m long, no wider than 20-30 m.

(No GPS # here, a few miles E-NE of #0543):  N28 40.774 W88 09.83  1317 CDT.
Vessel “WC COLUMBUS” towing a seismic array --six lines from the stern connected to  lines with buoys.  Plus another seep line to our north here!

0544:  N28 42.089 W88 08.560  1320 CDT.
Another seep line of surface sheen, NW-SE about 0.75 nm long by ~30 m wide.

(no GPS# here): N28 44.311 W88 06.282 1322 CDT. (Not sure we recorded this point properly, should check with marinetraffic.com for the ENSCO 8502 position here.)
Here is the ENSCO 8502 again! (The drilling rig that was near the Deepwater Horizon gravesite for several months until this past February.) It was making quite a spray -- we noticed it from  even before reaching MC252. Looked like smoke from a fire from a distance (but of course we saw no fire when reaching it).

 

0545: N28 50.239 W88 13.340  1327 CDT.
Long narrow line of sheen -- another seep?  W-E, about 1 nm long by 15-20 m wide.

(no GPS# here):  N28 51.804 W88 03.959  1333 CDT.
Platform “BP MC-127”.  Flaring.

0546:  N28 53.812 W88 05.084  1335 CDT.
Sargassum lines W-E, lines and patties. Best of it was at the west end:


0547:  N28 54.355 W88 06.273  1335 CDT.
West end of sargassum lines, where the thicker patties were.

0548:  N29 10.055 W88 44.657  1352 CDT>
Platform, old one with no name, very rusty.  But here we finally see a bait ball!  Wow, the first one in ages! Very small fish, herring perhaps.


****** NOTE on estimating oil sheen/slick volumes ****** 
1 acre x 1 micron ~ 1 gal.   263 gal = 1 m3 = 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.