Science Sees Sea Snot Seeping on the Seafloor

ENVIRONMENT

On the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, scientists reveal a newly discovered process that may inspire better cleanup strategies. (Nat Geo News)

Use our resources to learn more about the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.

This gorgeous cutaway map displays "Layers of Life" affected by the disastrous oil spill that followed the deadly explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon platform. Map by National Geographic

This gorgeous cutaway map displays “Layers of Life” affected by the disastrous oil spill that followed the deadly explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform.
Map by National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

 

Are we looking at the top of a "dirty blizzard" in the Gulf of Mexico? Photograph by Christopher Berkey, EPA

Are we looking at the top of a “dirty blizzard” in the Gulf of Mexico?
Photograph by Christopher Berkey, EPA

  • What does the MOSSFA phenomenon have to do with oil spills?
    • According to Nat Geo News, the cleanup effort introduced foreign particles to the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. These particles mixed with sea snot to form a “dirty blizzard.” “Heavy, oil-rich particles [from the blizzard] plummeted to the bottom of the Gulf like stones.”

 

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of the Gulf of Mexico on April 25, 2010 using its Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument. With the Mississippi Delta on the left, the silvery swirling oil slick from the April 20 explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform is highly visible. Some of the fines that may be levied against BP ($1.2 billion) and Transocean ($75 million), which operated Deepwater Horizon, will go toward restoring the barrier islands, wetlands, and oyster reef damaged by the spill. Photograph courtesy NASA/MODIS Rapid Response Team

Cleanup efforts around the Mississippi Delta following the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may have contributed to the “dirty blizzard” of marine snow.
Photograph courtesy NASA/MODIS Rapid Response Team

 

 

  • How might MOSSFA help scientists develop better cleanup strategies for future oil spills?
    • Now that responders know about the MOSSFA process, they could control how much clay flows into the Gulf when flushing marshes.
      • The role of clay is another factor responders will incorporate into their assessment of the next ocean oil spill: “‘What you are trying to do as a responder is to make the least bad thing happen,’ says Nancy Kinner, director of the Coastal Research Response Center at the University of New Hampshire. That may mean choosing between damage to beaches, birds, and bottom dwellers.”
Beaches . . . Photograph of Orange Beach, Alabama, months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion by Tyrone Turner, National Geographic

Beaches . . .
Photograph of Orange Beach, Alabama, months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion by Tyrone Turner, National Geographic

 . . birds. . . Photograph of a brown pelican off the coast of Louisiana, months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion by Joel Sartore, National Geographic

. . birds. . .
Photograph of a brown pelican off the coast of Louisiana, months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion by Joel Sartore, National Geographic

. . . and bottom dwellers. Photograph of a shrimp the size of a staple swimming among marine snow and oil globules by David Liittschwager, National Geographic

. . . and bottom dwellers.
Photograph of a shrimp the size of a staple swimming among marine snow and oil globules by David Liittschwager, National Geographic

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: Why Did ‘Shocking’ Amounts of BP Oil Fall to the Seafloor?

Nat Geo: This Day in Geographic History—Deepwater Horizon Explodes

Nat Geo: Plankton Revealed

Nat Geo: Marine Food Webs

Nat Geo: Simulate an Oil Spill Cleanup

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