Gulf Coast residents were relieved when the BP oil spill seemed less harmful than expected, and millions of gallons of oil appeared to melt away into the ocean water. Unfortunately, scientists have discovered that the ocean didn't absorb as much oil as once thought, and about six to 10 million gallons are now resting on the sea floor. This revelation may mean disaster for both sea life and humans.
The BP oil spill leaked about 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. A new study from Florida State University says that six to 10 million gallons of that oil ended up buried in sediment on the sea floor -- and it may stay there for a while.
According to Phys.org, there is less oxygen on the bottom of the ocean. Once the oil particles start receiving less oxygen, it becomes more difficult for bacteria to attack the oil and make it decompose. That creates a couple of problems for the Gulf.
First, if anything does disturb the sediment, it will stir up the oil, creating the effects of a whole new spill. Nature World News reports that the original Deepwater Horizon spill led to skin lesions on Mahi Mahi and red snapper fish, unhealthy coral growth and reduced numbers of critically endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtles. Second, the oil will likely end up in the human food chain.
Jeff Chanton, professor of oceanography and lead author of the study, explained, "This is going to affect the Gulf for years to come. Fish will likely ingest contaminants because worms ingest the sediment, and fish eat the worms. It's a conduit for contamination into the food web."
Chanton's study is one of the few serious reports on sedimentary oil from the BP spill. Think Progress reports that the federal Oil Budget Calculator, designed to determine where the BP oil would go in the short term, did not take into account build-up on the sea floor.
Chanton added that "everyone thinks oil is very buoyant and that it just floats on the surface," making the bottom of the ocean a low priority.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, there was another study which found a "bathtub ring" of oil in the depths of the Gulf. That ring was roughly the size of Rhode Island.
On the upside, Chanton's study found less oil than he'd originally thought. His original expectations were fueled by numerous reports of people seeing oil clumping together on the surface and then submerging down. Still, that might be little consolation as the BP oil spill promises to cause damage for years to come.
[Image Credit: NOAA/Flickr]