NOAA Research Ship Expands Spill Mission
The NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter conducting sampling in the Gulf will expand its mission to use its sophisticated sonar equipment and other scientific instruments to help define the subsurface plume near the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill site and adjacent area. The mission is a collaborative project among NOAA, academia and the private sector.
Previously conducting plankton sampling in the south Gulf important to establish baseline conditions related to the oil spill, Gordon Gunter will begin additional work using its sonar capabilities that can scan subsurface features. Also aboard is a graduated net used for sampling fish larvae at different depths. The 224-ft.Gordon Gunter will conduct observations for fisheries, water, and acoustics sampling in the oil spill area and to the south.
"NOAA continues to provide assets on land, sea, and in the air to help the federal response in this effort," said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter has unique capabilities that will help us better understand and define the subsurface plume that is near the oil spill site."
The Gunter will sail to the vicinity of the well head and begin a systematic survey using its 18 and 38 kHz sonar to define the shape and extent of the underwater plume. University of New Hampshire Joint Hydrographic Center scientists onboard will explore the feasibility of using mid-water mapping sonar to image the submerged plume in combination with new software that could result in 3-D images of what is happening underneath the surface.
If potential plumes are identified, the Gunter will deploy a unique autonomous underwater vehicle provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Called the Gulper, the vehicle will take discrete water samples at various depths to allow precise characterization of any oil, dispersants, or other substances in the plume.
As the Gunter is sailing south, the R/V Weatherbird II from the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg will work up the Loop Current taking water samples and using advanced technology to detect the presence of oil products in offshore waters. The Weatherbird II will transit towards the Gordon Gunter.
"Making changes to a ship's schedule and science mission requires a lot of cooperation and work to identify the science plan and get the proper personnel and equipment on board," said Lubchenco. "We are fortunate we were able to expand the Gunter's mission so quickly and we are grateful that our partners from the University of New Hampshire, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the University of South Florida were able to mobilize rapidly."
The Gordon Gunter primarily supports NOAA's Fisheries Service. The ship is homeported in Pascagoula, Miss. The Gordon Gunter operates primarily in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The ship normally conducts scientific surveys of the health and abundance of fishery resources and marine mammals. The vessel is operated by the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.