Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Texas A&M Scientists Return from 10 Day Expedition to the Gulf

Texas A&M Scientists Return from 10 Day Expedition to the Gulf
Texas A&M Oceanography Professor John Kessler is back from a 10 day expedition studying the effects of methane gas at the oil spill site in the Gulf of Mexico.
Posted: 10:29 PM Jun 22, 2010
Reporter: Clay Falls
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An Aggie professor is receiving national attention after wrapping up a 10 day scientific expedition at the site of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill where he studied the effects of methane gas.
"What those measurements at sea tell us is that concentration of methane and some of the other components of natural gas specifically, ethane and propane in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico are astonishingly high," said John Kessler, Ph.D., a Texas A&M Oceanography Assistant Professor.
Kessler returned from his 10 day expedition at sea late Monday night and on Tuesday addressed the media with his team's preliminary findings.
In May Kessler was awarded a $160,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to explore the effects of methane at the oil spill site as well as the impact in oxygen-depleted zones.
"There's a lot of natural gas and oil naturally just emanating from the seafloor and going into the water so does this spill then highlight the possibility that those natural sources of oil and gas contribute to these hypoxic zones," Kessler said.
The team, which included 12 scientists from Texas A&M, Texas A&M Galveston and The University of California, Santa Barbara, discovered that the methane, which amounts for 40 percent of what's spewing from the spill site, is staying in the deep waters and not escaping into the atmosphere.
"It was the deep waters, those below about a 1,000 meters depth that contained those high concentrations. The depth of the water where we were normally working was about 1,500 meters," Kessler explained.
"The trip was incredibly tiring for one but it was very exciting it was my first cruise so I got to experience what it was like to be out in the ocean and we we're spending tireless nights staying up analyzing our samples," said Eric Chan, a Chemical Oceanography Graduate Student at Texas A&M.
Eric Chan was one of the oceanography graduate students who participated in the research in the Gulf.
The team took methane samples above and below the water and got as close as one third of a mile from ground zero and as far as six miles away.
Chan tells us the visible impact of the spill was sad to see
"The majority of the water around that five mile radius was just a sheen on top of the water, you'd see batches of clumped up oil on top and BP they're actually hiring people to actually burn that oil off," Chan said.
Professor Kessler tells us despite the environmental damage being done, the oil and methane leaking should not have an impact on climate change.
"Even at the high end estimates of the amount of oil and natural gas resonating from the riser beam pipe, if all of that material is to go into the atmosphere you'd still have an insignificant increase in the atmospheric budget of this green house gas," Professor Kessler said.
Based on the team's observations some of the test sites showed oxygen depletion levels up to 30 percent, whereas other areas had no depletions at all.
"What really is of interest to us is what's going to happen in the long term. We have a snapshot of what is happening right now in the spill. There's an incredible amount of methane in their, there's more methane and natural gas being pumped in every day," Kessler said.
It's a snapshot that will have a much clearer picture as the team analyzes it's more than one million samples in the weeks and months ahead.
Kessler says their data should also provide a preliminary insight into the actual size of the spill.

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