We are close to wrapping up our sub-surface sampling work in the Gulf of Mexico here on the Ocean Veritas. The last several days have been a haul. We’ve had clear, quiet weather—perfect for sediment sampling—and we have been able to get through a lot of our assigned sampling sites.
Last weekend three of our team members that started this cruise with us back in September headed home to their day jobs, including our Chief Scientist Ian Hartwell of NOAA. He was replaced by Frank Coluccio also of NOAA. It was bittersweet to see part of our team leave since we’ve really found our rhythm and have learned how to work well together. Everyone on board worked hard, was willing to learn and listen, and was very interested in obtaining accurate data, and everyone feels privileged to have been a part of this mission.
We have a few more days out at sea before we all get to head back into port for good. As our work comes to a close, Ian Hartwell summed up the cruise in his own words:
Like any good research project we have created as many questions as we have answered. Is there material on the bottom that appears to have come from the blowout? Yes, but this is consistent with data from other spills (such as the Ixtoc I spill of 1979). As for the composition of the material we’ve found and whether or not it’s toxic: we don’t have answers to these questions yet, and will wait on chemical, microbial, bioassay, and benthic infaunal analyses results from the labs to make those determinations. But, there are other questions too: How will the spill impact the ecosystem in the long run? What are the more subtle impacts it will have beyond direct toxicological effects? How widespread has it been deposited on the bottom? Will it move with subsurface currents or stay in place? As an empirical scientist, I find these and other questions to be of great interest, and they will no doubt keep scientists from NOAA and other public and private organizations going back to sea for some time to come.