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Images: Where Did Deepwater Horizon Oil Go?

In the Deepwater Horizon disaster, oil from the damaged Macondo well on the seafloor rose and formed slicks at the surface that spread far and wide (lavender), driven by winds and currents in the Gulf of Mexico. But some portion of the oil was trapped in the deep and never rose to the surface. Scientists studied samples of seafloor sediments (dots) and focused on a telltale chemical, hopane, to determine that the trapped oil settled in a relatively small area near the well (box). (G. Burch Fisher, University of California, Santa Barbara)
The scientists found that elevated levels of hopane from Deepwater Horizon oil fell within a 3,200-square-kilometer (1,250-square-mile) box near the damaged well (star) and near communities of deep-sea corals damaged by the oil spill (circles). They found that 4 to 31 percent of the oil trapped in the deep ocean—the equivalent of 2 to 16 percent of the total oil discharged during the accident—fell within the 1,250-square-mile patch of the deep seafloor. (David L. Valentine, University of California, Santa Barbara)
Flying above the Gulf of Mexico are this article's authors, marine chemists Chris Reddy (left) of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and David Valentine of the University of California, Santa Barbara. (Chris Reddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

When oil slicks on the ocean surface hit coastlines, they create a "dirty bathtub ring" effect. Scientists were surprised that a similar effect can also occur on the seafloor at the bottom of the ocean.

(Chris Reddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
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