ATLANTA — A University of Georgia marine researcher says there should be great concern over how the massive oil spill is affecting not only Gulf coast shorelines, but the deep underwater ecosystem of the Gulf.
Mandy Joye is coordinating a research team in the Gulf collecting information on deep underwater oxygen depletion. She says what’s been found so far is troubling.
“Everybody was concerned, and rightfully so, about the coastal impacts of the spill. But there are going to be offshore impacts. And we’re just beginning now to try to understand and document and assess what those impacts are going to be.”
Thick vertical columns of oil, called plumes, have been recorded. And one may be at least 10 miles deep and several miles wide underwater.
Joye says over time, water is depleted of more and more oxygen because of microbes that naturally eat oil and gas, depleting oxygen too.
“The microbial populations are used to seeing oil and gas—low levels of oil and gas in the water. They appear to have responded quite quickly to the infusion of carbon, but it’s hard to say how long their activity will be ramped-up.”
Joye says the potential is there for devastating harm to sea life in the region if oxygen levels fall low enough.
She says her group will return to the Gulf in a few weeks for more deep water research.