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How USF researchers look for oil plumes

USF marine scientists are studying whether underwater clouds discovered in the Gulf of Mexico can be traced to the BP oil spill. Tony Haywood, BP's CEO says no. To be 100 percent sure, USF and NOAA marine scientists have been examining the chemical makeup of the clouds to determine where the hydrocarbons come from. Here is how they collect samples. Learn more about what they found.

USF used the research vessel Weatherbird II, a floating laboratory, to collect and analyze a huge number of samples.

A CTD rossette and gliders were used to collect samples from areas northeast of the spill. Here is how they operated:

Researchers used this device, which looks like a rosette wheel of cylindrical containers, to capture the subsurface oil and measure ocean conditions, such as water temperature, salinity and density. The containers can be electronically opened and closed at any depth.

The team also deployed automated gliders to take measurements. The gliders move up and down underwater by changing their buoyancy. The glider surfaces to transmit collected data to the Weatherbird II or to laboratories on shore.

The subsurface oil is like a series of clouds, rather than blobs of dark oil. Like clouds, the oil can be continuous or broken up, taking on a variety of shapes and sizes. Some can be long and wispy, others thick and bulbous. The CTD and the gliders probe and collect samples which are analyzed to create a chemical fingerprint that can be compared to oil samples from the spill.

Story by Katie Sanders. Graphics by Don Morris, John Corbitt and Danny Valentine.
Sources: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, USF St. Petersburg
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