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July 28, 2010

Update on NOAA's oil spill research and response missions

Five ships, two aircraft and turtle rescue boats are currently active in the Gulf of Mexico
By Noaa

NOAA continues to play a vital role in the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill response, using all the scientific methods at its disposal, including satellites in space, planes in the air, ships on the water, autonomous underwater vehicles and gliders under the water, and scientists in the field.

There are five NOAA vessels currently operating in the Gulf of Mexico from homeports as far north as New England with missions ranging from seafood safety to detecting submerged oil. This week the NOAA vessels are conducting the following missions:

NOAA Ship Pisces has been supporting the Unified Command in its Deepwater Horizon/BP wellhead integrity testing effort since July 14. The ship has been using sophisticated acoustic echo-sounders and water column profiling instruments to monitor for oil and gas releases in the immediate vicinity of, and directly over, the well head. Data from the mission are currently being analyzed by the National Incident Command, NOAA and the University of New Hampshire daily as they monitor the cap on the wellhead. The 209-ft. vessel is based in Pascagoula, Miss.
 
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter is currently studying sperm whales and other marine mammals to learn more about how they are impacted by the oil spill. It will be tracking their abundance and distribution both with visual surveys and by recording sounds using an array of underwater microphones. Earlier this week, the ship monitored for the presence of oil and gas near the wellhead as part of the Unified Command's wellhead integrity testing. The 224-ft. Gordon Gunter is set to remain on this mission until August 8 when it will return to its base in Pascagoula, Miss.

NOAA Ship Nancy Foster is using a remotely operated vehicle to monitor deep-water bottom habitats that have been exposed to the oil/dispersant mixtures from the Deepwater Horizon incident, investigating what impacts may have occurred at this stage of the spill. Researchers will visit areas in the northern Gulf of Mexico that have been previously sampled as well as go to new areas to collect baseline samples on deep-water corals and associated marine life in the Gulf. The 187-ft. vessel is based in Charleston, S.C.
 
The 209-ft., New England-based NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow will sail from Key West this week to the well head and use its echosounder to monitor for oil and gas releases while NOAA Ship Pisces resupplies.
 
The 170-ft. NOAA Ship Oregon II departed from its home port of Pascagoula, July 26 to collect samples of fish and shrimp off Louisiana at depths between 30 and 360 feet. The samples will be tested for contaminants as part of the ongoing program that ensures that seafood harvested from the Gulf remains safe for consumers.
 
Two NOAA aircraft operating out of Mobile, Ala., are active in the spill response effort:

One NOAA DHC-6 Twin Otter, a twin-engine turboprop, is using a multi-spectral scanner to measure surface oil density and thickness.
 
Another NOAA Twin Otter is providing aerial observations and surveys of marine life, including dolphins, whales and sea turtles in the area of the oil spill. Scientists will evaluate the exposure of marine mammals and turtles to oil, estimate short-term changes in abundance before and after exposure, and examine changes in spatial distribution that may be associated with avoidance of oil as it enters near shore coastal and estuarine habitats.  

Sea Turtle Rescue Boats

NOAA sea turtle experts are members of the Incident Command's Wildlife Branch, which has deployed five turtle rescue boats whose crews search for oiled turtles. So far, about 180 turtles have been rescued, and 170 of those are currently alive in rehabilitation. In addition, the Wildlife Branch has contracted 12 trained turtle observers to work on skimmer boats operated by the Coast Guard and BP. NOAA staff play an integral role in the observer program.  

NOAA's mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at http://www.noaa.gov or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/usnoaagov.
 
On the web:

NOAA science mission page: http://www.noaa.gov/sciencemissions/bpoilspill.html