Image credit: Greenpeace USA 2010 (Flickr CC)

Though around half of the oil spilt into the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon explosion in April remains unaccounted for, scientists have mapped out a 22-mile (35 km) underwater plume of petrochemicals.

The fact that so much oil has remained underwater instead of floating to the surface is surprising to scientists and also problematic because it makes the oil more difficult to locate. This means that they don’t know what damage may still be occurring in the Gulf and where.

Other unknowns include why the oil didn’t disperse as expected and the unpredictable – and undependable – nature of oil eating microbes.

From an NPR report:

The hydrocarbons, including benzene and toluene, were highly diluted in the water. They were coming from the gushing well, but they weren’t spreading out in all directions. Instead, they followed an invisible underwater channel just over a mile wide and 650 feet thick. The researchers tracked that channel southwest for 22 miles, until bad weather forced them to stop.

Just how much oil from the well is contained in this plume is also unknown, but it is a significant discovery and the best-documented case of its kind.

Debate concerning the amount of oil remaining in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico continues.

The debate broke into the open this week when the Sea Grant team released a short report estimating that as much as 79 percent of the oil that the Deepwater Horizon blowout ejected into the Gulf remains in the environment. By contrast, the unified command’s report suggested that no more than half the oil is still in the environment. Some administration officials went further to say that only about 25 percent remained.

–Christian Science Monitor

For more details on the story see the following article from the Christian Science Monitor:

Gulf oil spill plume stretches 22 miles, not breaking down much

Also check out this short video report from NBC Nightly News:

Mile-wide oil plume spotted near BP spill

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