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Oil sheen

Oil and Water

Oil spills aren't pretty, but this one is perfectly natural. WHOI scientist Chris Reddy and colleagues from the University of California, Santa Barbara, have been studying areas off the Santa Barbara coast where oil seeps naturally out of the seafloor. They have even discovered "asphalt volcanoes"—areas where seeping oil hardened and piled into dome-like mounds (see audio slideshow). In their work, the scientists used the deep-sea robot Sentry, equipped with a portable underwater mass spectrometer to detect telltale chemicals in the water. Seven months later, that experience came in handy when the scientists used the same apparatus to investigate deepwater plumes of hydrocarbons spewing from the Macondo well in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. (Photo courtesy of Chris Reddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

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