News for February 21: Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the sea floor and isn’t degrading as hoped

Please add more news stories.  I’m on travel today.

Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead

(AP) — Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a top scientist’s video and slides that she says demonstrate the oil isn’t degrading as hoped and has decimated life on parts of the sea floor.

That report is at odds with a recent report by the BP spill compensation czar that said nearly all will be well by 2012.

At a science conference in Washington Saturday, marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia aired early results of her December submarine dives around the BP spill site. She went to places she had visited in the summer and expected the oil and residue from oil-munching microbes would be gone by then. It wasn’t.

“There’s some sort of a bottleneck we have yet to identify for why this stuff doesn’t seem to be degrading,” Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington. Her research and those of her colleagues contrasts with other studies that show a more optimistic outlook about the health of the gulf, saying microbes did great work munching the oil.

“Magic microbes consumed maybe 10 percent of the total discharge, the rest of it we don’t know,” Joye said, later adding: “there’s a lot of it out there.”

The head of the agency in charge of the health of the Gulf said Saturday that she thought that “most of the oil is gone.” And a Department of Energy scientist, doing research with a grant from BP from before the spill, said his examination of oil plumes in the water column show that microbes have done a “fairly fast” job of eating the oil. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab scientist Terry Hazen said his research differs from Joye’s because they looked at different places at different times.

Joye’s research was more widespread, but has been slower in being published in scientific literature.

In five different expeditions, the last one in December, Joye and colleagues took 250 cores of the sea floor and travelled across 2,600 square miles. Some of the locations she had been studying before the oil spill on April 20 and said there was a noticeable change. Much of the oil she found on the sea floor – and in the water column – was chemically fingerprinted, proving it comes from the BP spill. Joye is still waiting for results to show other oil samples she tested are from BP’s Macondo well.

She also showed pictures of oil-choked bottom-dwelling creatures. They included dead crabs and brittle stars – starfish like critters that are normally bright orange and tightly wrapped around coral. These brittle stars were pale, loose and dead. She also saw tube worms so full of oil they suffocated.

“This is Macondo oil on the bottom,” Joye said as she showed slides. “This is dead organisms because of oil being deposited on their heads.”

Joye said her research shows that the burning of oil left soot on the sea floor, which still had petroleum products. And even more troublesome was the tremendous amount of methane from the BP well that mixed into the Gulf and was mostly ignored by other researchers.

Joye and three colleagues last week published a study in Nature Geoscience that said the amount of gas injected into the Gulf was the equivalent of between 1.5 and 3 million barrels of oil.

38 Responses to News for February 21: Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the sea floor and isn’t degrading as hoped

  1. catman306 says:

    Who you gonna believe? A marine scientist, a BP scientist, or a banker?

    Dr. Samantha Joye is a professor in the department of marine sciences in the University of Georgia’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. She is an expert in the cycling of nutrients, metals, and organic materials between the living and non-living components of the ecosystem (a field known as biogeochemistry) in coastal environments; and in ecosystem and geochemical modeling; microbial ecology, metabolism and physiology.

  2. jyyh says:

    In addition the obvious note that cold slows the processes down in the bottom I might link to this

  3. catman306 says:

    Dakotas blizzard adds to extreme spring flooding risk
    By Dr. Jeff Masters
    Published: 9:19 PM EST on February 20, 2011

    There is a huge amount of snow on the ground in North Dakota along the tributaries of the Red River, thanks to fall precipitation that was 150% – 300% of normal, and winter snows that have dumped up to 400% more precipitation than usual. If one were to melt this snow, it would amount to 4 – 5 inches of rain. If heavy rains occur at the same time that the snow melts, there is the potential for the greatest flood in history to affect the cities of Fargo and Grand Forks, the largest and third largest cities in North Dakota. NWS is giving a 20% chance that Fargo will see its greatest flood in history, and a 10% chance for Grand Forks.

  4. Wit's End says:

    This is unthinkable!

    “House Republicans cut funding to UN climate science body
    Funding ban to IPCC part of cuts package that would slash spending on environmental protection

    • Republicans propose $1.6bn cut to EPA

    In proposing the ban on IPCC funding, Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer called the UN panel ‘nefarious’.”

  5. Will Koroluk says:

    @#3 (catman306):
    What the Masters piece doesn’t say is that downriver from Fargo and Grand Forks is Winnipeg, with a population of about 690,000. Much of the city is protected by a floodway that was build in a semicircle around most of the city, but even floodways have limits, and there are many suburbs and small towns that lie outside of the floodway and are at risk. Southern Manitoba is so flat that when the Red River spills over its banks, the area turns into what looks like a vast inland sea that might only be a foot deep in most places. Farmers there grow a lot of cereal grain and oilseed crops–but not when they can’t get their equipment into the fields.

  6. Colorado Bob says:

    They’re denying global cooling
    John Lukens, Gilmanton Iron Works

    Proponents of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative argue that the $28 million generated by this hidden tax both reduces our carbon footprint and is useful in supporting energy efficiency and conservation efforts.

    It goes rapidly downhill after this.

  7. Colorado Bob says:

    The bill in South Africa is being totaled-up :
    Flooding costs S.Africa farming $392 mln: industry

  8. Colorado Bob says:

    Oranjerivier Wine Cellars, a South African grape producer and vintner, said its output of wine grapes will fall about 36 percent this year after floods damaged vineyards.

    The wine-grape harvest will come to about 100,000 metric tons, Henning Burger, the cooperative’s viticulture manager, said today by phone. Raisin production at Upington, South Africa-based Oranjerivier probably will slide by half to 25,000 tons, he said.

  9. Jay B. says:

    To argue who is right or wrong in this article is quite impossible. We have just few details to recognise full work of anyone who participated on the research. Definitely there are many other points that have to be taken into account and simply we don´t know them. The main point here is to say that this disaster cost a lot of money and incalculable devastation of biodiversity of the Gulf of Mexico.

  10. paulm says:

    It getting harder to get at that oil…

    Alberta Fills Pipes with Corrosive Denial

    NRDC wanted to know if piping diluted bitumen posed more safety risks than conventional crude.

    The data specialists found that Alberta’s hazardous liquid system experienced “218 spills greater than 26 gallons per 10,000 miles of pipeline caused by internal corrosion from 2002 to 2010.” That’s a spill rate several times greater than that recorded by a much older U.S. pipeline system.

    bitumen thinners include condensate, pentane plus, gasoline or naphtha, a byproduct of oil refining. Diluted bitumen or DilBit (not to be confused with the comic strip hero, Dilbert) contains about 70 per cent bitumen and 30 per cent diluent. About half of all Canadian oil sands exports come in the form of DilBit.

  11. paulm says:

    The U.S. does not expect this year’s climate change conference in South Africa to yield a binding international agreement to stop global warming, the top U.S. negotiator said Monday.

  12. paulm says:

    Alberta continues fight against EU climate measures

    Alberta’s energy minister is taking “preventative” steps to ensure the European Union doesn’t pass climate change laws targeting his province’s oil sands.

    “I always feel it’s a lot harder to undo legislation than to take action before it becomes law,” Ron Liepert told the Calgary Herald.

  13. dbmetzger says:

    A little news item from the land down under. More flooding…
    Rising Floodwaters in Australia
    More damage south of Darwin as hundreds of people are displaced.

  14. Colorado Bob says:

    BEIJING (AFP) – Thick smog blanketing Beijing went “beyond” measurable pollution levels on Monday, the US embassy said, as a Chinese official warned people to stay indoors and avoid outdoor activities.

    The independent assessment by the embassy said pollution was either hazardous or “beyond index,” meaning that air quality had plunged below the worst level on the scale.

    The Beijing Environmental Bureau said air quality in most of the city was at level five — the worst rating.

  15. paulm says:

    The hunger that has roiled the Middle East was not caused by the whims of autocrats and cops. It began last year with crippling drought in Russia and later Argentina, and torrential rains in Australia and Canada.

    The deluges in Saskatchewan were so sustained and intense that farmers couldn’t plant some 10 million acres of wheat, according to the Canadian Wheat Board. “What is typically the driest province was never wetter,” said Environment Canada, a government agency.

  16. Prokaryotes says:

    “To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice.”, Confucius

  17. paulm says:

    “Whether the world tips into agricultural catastrophe this year depends on the fate of the wheat on the North China Plain.”

  18. paulm says:

    Population is peaking also…..we are not going to get much past 7billion now.

    “… the era of predictable abundance that fueled the world’s population growth to almost 7 billion people may be over. Relief agencies, already lashed by hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and government budget cuts, are ill-equipped to handle severe food shortages.”

  19. Prokaryotes says:

    Rolls-Royce 102EX concept car (2011) first pictures

    olls-Royce 102EX: the electric Rolls

    CAR broke the story about Rolls preparing electric cars back in 2008. As part of the BMW empire, Rolls-Royce is planning alternative powertrains just as much as Mini is.

    The two extremes of the BMW range might seem like chalk and cheese, but this joint approach makes sense. Your typical Rolls-Royce owner might not be quite as fussed by fuel prices as a Cooper owner, but their environmental conscience may be just as wholesome. It makes a lot of sense for a CEO or aristo not to flaunt consumption in these straitened times.

    Rolls-Royce CEO speaks

    ‘We have engineered the world’s first battery electric vehicle for the ultra-luxury segment,’ said CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös. ‘With this vehicle, we begin an exploration into alternative drivetrains, seeking clarity on which alternative technologies may be suitable to drive Rolls-Royce motor cars of the future.’

    I thought the TESLA was luxury, but duh …

  20. Prokaryotes says:

    Yasi does 10yrs damage to Barrier Reef

    Authorities say hundreds of kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef hit by Cyclone Yasi will take up to 10 years to recover.

    It is still too early for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to send divers out to do a full assessment, but coral from the reef has been washing up on nearby shores.

    The damage is expected to be similar to that of Cyclone Larry five years ago.

    The authority’s chief executive, Russell Reichelt, says all the progress the reef has made since then will now be destroyed.

    “We can expect to see smashed coral beds, movements of coral boulders, sand and rubble moved around,” he said.

    “If there’s any sand islands there and importantly sea grass beds, when they get disturbed – which they do by cyclones – then animals like dugong get affected.”

    Mr Reichelt says cyclones are not as damaging to reefs as the effects of climate change.

    But he says Yasi will have still caused major destruction.

    “Coral will begin regenerating immediately and be visibly restored in five to 10 years, but it changes the shape of the reef for very long periods – islands can be formed, boulders can be thrown up,” he said.

  21. Colorado Bob says:

    Climate Change Extends Allergy Season in North America

    Pollen season is lengthening in proportion to warming observed in North America

    It’s enough to make you grab a tissue: Minneapolis has tacked 16 days to the ragweed pollen season since 1995; LaCrosse, Wisc. has added 13 days, Winnipeg and Saskatoon in Canada have added 25 and 27 days, respectively.

  22. Scott says:

    #9. Jay B — We certainly can say that those who maintain that the oil is gone are wrong.

  23. Michael T. says:

    Climate Models, Climate Forcing and Climate Change: Dr. Gavin Schmidt

    Feb 8, 2010

    Dr. Gavin Schmidt is a climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and is interested in modeling past, present and future climate. He works on developing and improving coupled climate models and, in particular, is interested in how their results can be compared to paleoclimatic proxy data. He has worked on assessing the climate response to multiple forcings, such as solar irradiance, atmospheric chemistry, aerosols, and greenhouse gases.

  24. paulm says:

    THis is just the beginning….what of all the nuclear power stations along the coasts that will be flooding?

    Chemical Exposure Boosted By Climate Change: U.N. Report

    “Significant climate-induced changes are foreseen in relation to future releases of persistent organic pollutants into the environment … subsequently leading to higher health risks both for human populations and the environment,” says Donald Cooper, the Geneva-based U.N. treaty’s executive secretary, in the preface.

    the risks of exposure could increase if more stockpiles and landfills leak due to flooding, or other extreme weather linked to rising temperatures. Chemicals stored in stockpiles or waste dumps to be incinerated or removed later could simply wash away, become more volatile, or escape in the warmer weather through gas emissions, it says.

  25. Sarah says:

    Climate hawks with iPads, check out the free EarthObserver ap from Lamont Dougherty. Global maps of ice cover, permafrost, land use, solar radiation, vloud cover, and many other parameters.

  26. Prokaryotes says:

    By Blocking Clean Car Peace Treaty, H.R. 1 is Bad for Consumers, Oil Dependency and Automakers

    Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed H.R.1 on a vote of 235 to 189 with only three Republicans joining all the Democrats in voting no. By blocking what we call the 2009 Clean Car Peace Treaty, H.R. 1 would also raise consumer fuel bills, worsen our oil dependency, and throw automaker production plans into chaos.

    H.R. 1 is a “continuing resolution” to fund the government through the end of this fiscal year and includes an amendment (Poe, R-TX) that would bar the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from using any funds to implement, administer, or enforce any statutory or regulatory requirement pertaining to emissions of carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases. As my colleague Dan Lashof points out, H.R. 1 is really “an an all out assault on government, and the public health safeguards most Americans want government to enforce EPA, at the behest of big polluters and anti-science ideologues.”

    One of the results of defunding EPA would be to block the implementation of the 2009 Clean Car Peace Treaty, also known as phase 1 of the National Program that sets new pollution and efficiency standards for new model year 2012-16 cars and light trucks. The agreement was brokered by the President and supported by automakers, federal regulators, states, environmental leaders, and the UAW. It sets the first-ever EPA carbon pollution standards for new cars and raises fuel economy standards to 34.1 mpg by model year 2016. It provides California and the clean car states the pollution reduction they sought, while giving automakers certainty they need to plan their production.

    The bill would block implementation of the Clean Car Peace Treaty because California does not yet have a waiver from the EPA to allow it to implement a 2009 amendment to its program that allows automakers to use compliance with EPA standards to be used for demonstration of compliance with its program. This effectively allows automakers to design and build their fleets to meet a single national fleet standard. But without the waiver, California and 13 others states (plus D.C.) that have adopted California’s standards would have no choice but to enforce their separate programs. Given adequate lead time, this would not be a problem but the challenge is that automakers need at least two years lead time to plan their production. Model year 2012 is less than a year away.

    Just as troubling, H.R. 1 would also block EPA from working on the next phase of the National Program, covering model years 2017 to 2025, that could raise standards to as high as 62 mpg by the end of that period. Over the lifetime of the vehicles sold during 2017-2025, the Environmental Protection Agency projects its standards could reduce oil consumption by as much as 55 billion gallons and cut U.S. carbon pollution by as much as 960 million metric tons. Drivers could save as much as $7400 over the life of a model year 2025 car. And as I discussed in an earlier blog, due to differences in their underlying authorities, the EPA standards provides greater benefits than the companion fuel economy standard program that would be allowed to go forward under H.R. 1.

    Blocking the Clean Car Peace Treaty throws years of progress on common-sense pollution and fuel economy standards into reverse. H.R. 1 is a bad deal for consumers, our oil dependency, and the auto industry.

  27. Sou says:

    At least 65 killed in Christchurch New Zealand earthquake that struck at lunchtime. Major damage to inner city CBD buildings and more.

    (Not climate, but second recent earthquake for the city. )

  28. Prokaryotes says:

    Wow one of the very few news items about the climate which make it on the google frontpage (last article). Ofc Faux news is always top and denier post always lead.

    Could someone explain why the google news service is so biashed, in favor of denial?

    Climate Change Extending Ragweed Season in Colder Climes: Study
    Some northern U.S. states experiencing 16 more days of pollen pain, researchers say

  29. Prokaryotes says:

    Storm of controversy follows Luetkemeyer’s climate-change measure

  30. Ziyu says:

    Hyundai’s CAFE is now 34.7 mpg. It released sales figures and said it will do so along with CAFE every month.

    The problem is in the comments section. People are viciously attacking Hyundai for releasing this information monthly and saying they will not buy Hyundai again. Some of them are also crying about big government and how Hyundai meeting these standards will lead to perpetuation of CAFE and cause big government. Denialism is also a problem, but we need to stop the anti-green movement. These people hate clean energy no matter what and hate energy efficiency of any kind. They even hate voluntary efforts for fear that it might help the government. This mentality is almost as common as denialism. We need to get out the message and tout green benefits.

  31. Prokaryotes says:

    Ziyu, those are the same people who attack the science of climate change.

  32. Prokaryotes says:

    Are Humans Increasingly to Blame for Whales Strandings?

    As authorities scrambled to pick up the pieces after a second major earthquake hit the southern New Zealand town of Christchurch on Tuesday, government workers further south had just finished handling an altogether different kind of natural disaster. Over the weekend, more than 100 pilot whales were found on a remote beach on Stewart Island off the larger South Island. By the time the Department of Conservation reached them, half the stranded whales were dead, and the remaining live animals had to be euthanized.
    Whale strandings are not uncommon in New Zealand; a major stranding happens in the southern part of the country every 4 or 5 years, according to the Department of Conservation. Scientists around the world aren’t sure why whales beach themselves, but DOC spokesman Andy Roberts says in southern New Zealand, the two likely reasons are either that the pod has followed a sick animal on shore to help it, and become stuck in the shallow waters, or that the pod has made a navigational error and swam ashore. (He says there was no connection being made between the earthquake and the stranding.)

    The U.N., NOAA and the International Whaling Commission (IWC) have all suggested in reports that the naval military equipment and strandings may be linked, and the National Resources Defense Council, an American environmental group that links at least 13 mass strandings to naval exercises in recent years, has been pushing for sonar use that is safer for animals in the U.S. A case that the NRDC filed against the Navy to adopt safety measures to protect ocean mammals went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2008, which issued a split decision requiring the Navy comply with some of the measures, which it did.
    The notion of whether or not whale strandings could have something to do with climate change has also been tabled. As ocean temperatures get warmer, some suggest that it may be driving whales into unfamiliar territory that they aren’t able to navigate as well. Could this year’s funky weather in the South Pacific, with a strong La Nina in force, have contributed to the Steward Island stranding? Past studies have suggested it could be so. In a 2005 paper, scientists in Australia studied the links between weather patterns and whale strandings in the 20th century, finding that large-scale weather events had a powerful role in influencing whales to beach themselves.

    Read more:

    Australia, New Zealand one disaster after another …

  33. Prokaryotes says:

    Not surprisingly, Gross’s solution is based on software. Large solar thermal plants cost more than a billion dollars to build, and one reason for the high cost is that tens of thousands of specially fabricated mirrors have to be precisely arranged so that they focus the sunlight correctly. But what if you used plain mirrors on a simple metal rack and then used software to calibrate them, adjusting each one to optimize its position relative to the sun and the central tower? It would take huge amounts of computing power to manipulate all the mirrors in a utility-scale power plant, but computing power is cheap—far cheaper than paying engineers and technicians to laboriously position the mirrors by hand. The potential savings are impressive, according to Gross; he says that eSolar can install a field of mirrors for half what it costs in other solar thermal facilities. As a result, he expects to produce electricity for approximately 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, enticingly close to the price of power from a fossil-fuel plant.

    Still, it’s not good enough—at least in the United States, where natural-gas plants can produce power for around 6 cents per kilowatt- hour. In Lancaster, California, at the edge of the Mojave Desert, eSolar has built a facility with 24,000 mirrors; it is capable of producing five megawatts of power. But eSolar has gotten no new deals to build utility-scale projects based on the company’s technology in the United States. Instead it is doing business in parts of the world where electricity prices are higher or subsidies for renewable energy are greater; it is building a 2.5-megawatt plant in India and has signed an agreement for a large facility in China. The problem in the United States is the same one facing all alternative-energy dreams: cost. Prices for natural gas have fallen to historically low levels, which means that solar thermal must get even cheaper to compete. To stand a chance in the United States, Gross acknowledges, eSolar needs its electricity to cost no more than 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

    Getting there will take yet another advance in the technology. One disadvantage of solar power is that it produces electricity only during part of the day. Photovoltaic panels efficiently produce power for about five and half hours a day, when the sun is most directly overhead. Solar thermal systems can operate a bit longer, because the heated water can drive turbines later into the afternoon; eSolar’s technology makes power for about seven hours daily without storage. And Gross says that using molten salts instead of water to transport the heat from the central tower to the steam generator will enable a solar thermal facility to store the heat for much longer and produce electricity for up to 16 hours a day. That will bring down the cost of its electricity to the targeted 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. He predicts that eSolar will have a commercial plant with the molten-salt design running next year.

    “NO BUGS”
    While Bill Gross tries to squeeze a few critical pennies out of the cost of solar power, researchers at Caltech, a few miles up the road, are working on a different solution. They are trying to invent a fundamentally new way of producing liquid fuels directly from sunlight, inspired by the way green plants convert sunlight to sugars. If this quest for “artificial photosynthesis” succeeds, it will address one of solar energy’s fundamental challenges: how to store the power until it’s needed. The potential of this vision seems to animate the director of the effort, Nate Lewis. He speaks at times in bullet points punctuated by a mix of excitement and impatience. “No bugs, no wires,” he says. “No bugs, no wires. I mean what I say: no wires. Leaves have no wires. In come sunlight, water, and CO2, and out come fuels.”

    This research—a joint project of Caltech and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab—will be supported by $122 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy, pending Congressional appropriation of the funds.

  34. Prokaryotes says:

    Oh and the surprising rest of the article :)

    In the last decade, many U.S. energy experts and economists have argued that the government must establish a price for emitting carbon dioxide. They say that a carbon price—in the form of either a tax or a cap-and-trade system—would be an economically efficient and technologically fair way to reduce our use of fossil fuels. It would drive up the cost of energy derived from those fuels, allowing cleaner technologies to challenge them in the market without requiring the government to back particular choices. The European Union implemented a cap-and-trade system in 2005, but the United States—until recently the world’s largest user of energy and, arguably, still the leading center of energy innovation—has failed to do so.

    That has left energy policy experts debating how to go forward—especially now that subsidies and other benefits for clean energy in the 2009 federal stimulus bill are winding down. Some see an opportunity to focus on inventing new ways to make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels. Such innovation, they contend, is the only way to achieve massive reductions in fossil-fuel use. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is one of the investors who hope to stimulate such energy “miracles” (see Q&A, September/October 2010).

    Critics of that view, however, believe it’s more important to focus on increasing the use of clean energy technologies as soon as possible through government subsidies and other incentives. It’s dangerous to believe that “all these amazing technologies will come along and solve the problem,” says Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank. The truth is, he says, breakthroughs “don’t happen very often.”

    In fact, most technologies get better and cheaper as they are commercialized and used, not in the lab. That means we need both research into new energy technologies and government policies that support deployment, use, and improvement. There’s an intimate connection between these efforts. “Until you start deployment, you don’t know the challenges,” says Romm. “So many great ideas happen in the lab but don’t succeed in the market. It is the back-and-forth between deployment and R&D that gets you rapid innovation.”

  35. Mike#22 says:

    Half-a-Hypercar: 261-mpg Volkswagen XL1 to enter very limited production

    “Automobilwoche [sub] heard in Qatar both from Piech and Winterkorn that Volkswagen will actually build a small series (about 100 first) of the car. Piech confirmed that the car will be made available for purchase at a yet undisclosed price. It’s not just a field test.”

    Cross the USA on 12 gallons of petro diesel.

    Although this one gets a 2 cylinder engine, you could run it on electricity. This car would go about 100 miles on 6 kilowatt hours (kwh), which would require about 160 pounds of Li-ion battery pack (at about 3k $). You could run it on propane. One of those 25 lb barbecue tanks (the small one) would go 800 miles or so. You could make a hybrid with 60 lbs batteries and a 60 lb generator.

    This half-a-hypercar will be expensive at very low scale production rates, but what about scale up? There is a lot less raw material here than in a Prius, a Leaf, or a Volt.