Part of the Gulf of Mexico became greener after oil spill

Authors


Abstract

[1] Biological changes have been observed in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico since the April–July 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest offshore spill event in U.S. history. To overcome the difficulty of lack of sufficient field sampling data for a region-wide impact assessment, Hu et al. used multiyear satellite measurements of ocean phytoplankton's “glow” under sunlight to document the surface ocean's biological changes. They observed that during August 2010, several weeks after the leaking oil well was capped, an area stretching more than 11,000 square kilometers in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico was especially green, caused by increased phytoplankton biomass. The area was greener than it had been during any previous August since 2002. The researchers' analyses of ocean circulation and other oceanographic and environmental data indicate that the increased greenness was probably caused by the oil spill. Their findings highlight the unique value of satellite technology in observing changes in the ocean as well as the need for an integrated and sustained ocean observing system. (Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2011GL047184, 2011)