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Annual Public Lectures Series > Vernon Asper

Scientists and Journalists:
Getting the Point Across
June 13-17, 2011

Where Did All That Oil Go? And Why is This Such a Hard Question, Anyway?
Vernon Asper, University of Southern Mississippi
Summary of comments from June 14

Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, NOAA released the results of a model (termed the "oil budget") for the short-term fate of oil in the Gulf in order to guide immediate response efforts. Given the depth and magnitude of the spill, there were many questions surrounding how the oil would travel, in which forms, and how long it would persist.

Vernon Asper, professor of marine science at the University of Southern Mississippi, studied the short-term fate of this oil using electronic sensors, deepwater cameras, and by acquiring water samples for analysis at varying depths within the spill area. The results presented in his Metcalf public lecture provided clues into how the oil was initially transported and later degraded. Asper also discussed each of the components in the NOAA budget and described the mechanisms for removal and degradation in the Gulf.

"What we think we know is that the oil appears to be completely gone. You can't find any out there either at the surface or in a deep plume," said Asper. He quickly follows that there are exceptions found floating in marshes and an as of yet unknown quantity isolated on the seafloor.

Although the majority of Deepwater Horizon oil is largely gone from the Gulf environment today, Asper stresse d the importance of ongoing research and monitoring into long-term impacts of this spill. The overall environmental consequences may be impossible to determine or observe until more time has passed.

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June 15, 2011