As the fifth anniversary of the BP oil spill approaches, a research vessel is expected to set sail from Gulfport this morning to study some of the effects of the 2010 disaster. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, the research is also looking at other issues related to oil spills.
Exploration Vessel Nautilus is busy Wednesday afternoon as crew members and scientists prepare to head out for a two-week expedition. They’ll be tracking the movement of hydrocarbons, which can include oil or natural gas, from natural seeps in the Gulf.
Director of science operations Nicole Raineault says this study, by researchers from around the country, should provide insight on where oil that’s released into the ocean ends up.
"A big mystery with BP was where did the oil go," she says. "Here they're going to be tracking it from its source in the sea floor all the way to the surface. And not only are we going to be following these bubbles with robots, but they also have some sensors to measure currents in the area and to measure how gases are changing by sampling them at different altitudes off the sea floor."
The Nautilus has two remotely operated vehicles that can go to depths of as low as 6,000 meters and record high-definition video and collect samples. A second expedition this summer will look at the impact of the spill on coral. Susan Poulton is a spokesperson for the Nautilus.
"We're doing the third year of actually returning to the same corals - we've tagged teeny tiny coral fans at the bottom, and we're going back to see the impact of the oil on that exact same coral over time," she says.
The studies are funded by a $500 million initiative, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, paid for by BP and set up after the spill to fund this kind of research.
Landlubbers can follow the Nautilus in real-time, see live video feeds from the sea floor, and ask scientists questions about what they see, at nautiluslive.org.