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Scientists find oil plume in Gulf of Mexico

Scientists have detected a large underwater “plume” of oil from the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico last April, which spilled almost five million barrels of oil into the sea until the leak was capped last month.

The discovery of a 650ft-high plume of hydrocarbon chemicals some 22 miles long by 1.2 miles wide, and 3,000ft below the surface of the Gulf, helps to answer the question of where the oil from the disaster has gone.

Two weeks ago, the influential US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that only about 26% of the oil from the spill remained in the environment. The rest had mostly evaporated or had dispersed, skimmed or burned off from the sea surface, the NOAA scientists said.

But the latest study by the Woods Hole Institution in Massachusetts found a vast plume of hydrocarbons deep below the sea surface following a detailed survey of the area in June. They also found evidence to suggest that the underwater oil was not being rapidly degraded by marine microbes, as the NOAA scientists had predicted.

Richard Camilli, the chief scientist on the Woods Hole study, said the findings were conclusive proof that an underwater plume exists.

“Many people speculated that subsurface oil droplets were being easily biodegraded. Well we didn't find that. We found it was still there. The plume is not pure oil. But there are oil compounds in there,” Dr Camilli said.

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