Where the Oil in the Gulf of Mexico is Located: What is Natural and What is from a Spill?

First Posted: Jan 27, 2016 09:43 AM EST

Where is the oil from the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill that occurred in 2011? Scientists have now taken a closer look and have found how much of the oil remains from this spill.

In total, 4.3 million barrels were released into the Gulf from the oil spill versus an annual release of 160,000 to 600,000 barrels per year from naturally occurring seeps.

"This information gives us context for the Deepwater Horizon spill," said Ian MacDonald, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Although natural seeps are significant over time, the spill was vastly more concentrated in time and space, which is why its impact was so severe.

The researchers found that dispersants were able to eliminate about 21 percent of the oil that floated on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico after the spill. However, the cost of this was the remaining oil spread over a 49 percent larger area.

The researchers used the data to also concentrate on natural oil seeps. This revealed that phytoplankton were thriving in the area of these natural oil seeps.

Most interesting, though, is that the researchers created a map that could help with other experiments on oil spills. In addition, it could help map the spread of future spills.

"It's giving us a basis for all of these other experiments," said MacDonald. "It's really revolutionizing how we look at the Gulf. It also gives scientists the exact geographic points where oil from the spill was located, so researchers can go to the Gulf floor and explore the area to see if there has been any environmental effect."

The findings are published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Oceans.

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