NEW ORLEANS, Lousiana – The Unified Area Command continues to expand techniques and programs, as part of its aggressive monitoring efforts, to determine the presence of sub-surface oil in the coastal waters of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
“As we continue to expand the scope and resources dedicated to detect, monitor and sample for sub-surface oil and dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico, we continue to leverage a variety of techniques to help us better understand the impacts of the oil spill at all depths,” said Federal On-Scene Coordinator Admiral Paul Zukunft. “We are aggressively monitoring the fate of the oil in the Gulf, and these techniques will help to provide additional information as the full picture becomes clearer.”
Techniques and methods currently employed in near-shore waters include:
- Placement of snare sentinels – innovative strings of absorbent materials, deployed in shallow waters – at a variety of depths to gauge any presence of oil. If oil is detected, qualified sampling personnel are dispatched to obtain water samples which are sent for laboratory tests.
- Sampling with equipment that scoops sediment from areas where the shoreline continues to be impacted. If anomalies are noted or oil is suspected, the sample is sent for testing.
- Trawling for floating tar balls or oiled-debris with specially-equipped, large shrimp boats off the coast. If the presence of oil is detected in an area, qualified sampling personnel obtain water samples which are sent for laboratory tests.
- In coastal and offshore waters, “flourometers” – devices that shine fluorescent light through the water measure the light reflected and refracted back for indications that oil is present – are utilized by responders to screen for oil.
- If the presence of oil is detected in the water column, then qualified sampling personnel obtain water samples which are sent for laboratory tests. Sediment samples are also taken at designated locations. If anomalies are noted or oil is suspected, the sample is sent for testing.
- Farther offshore, vessels are outfitted with sampling platforms – called rosettes – that have niskin bottles on them to take water samples to check for sub-surface oil offshore. These samples undergo chemical analysis at off-site locations for concentrations of oil, oil remnants and other compounds.
“A wide variety of U.S. government, private sector, university and other independent vessels are working offshore as part of our aggressive efforts to monitor for any sub-surface oil,” said NOAA Captain Barry Choy, who heads the Sub-Surface Monitoring Unit at ICP Houma. “Together these efforts ensure transparency in our assessment procedures.”
Several Vessels of Opportunity are participating in the sub-surface monitoring effort – transporting personnel and equipment and conduct surveys.
Survey and test data will be evaluated to determine if additional monitoring, sampling and testing are required. Representatives from federal, state and local agencies, the scientific community, industry and academia are working collaboratively in this survey and assessment over the next several weeks.