Soon after BP capped the Deepwater Horizon well earlier this month, the all-clear came from the government. It was dutifully echoed by a compliant mainstream media which had lost enthusiasm for the oil spill story and was eager to move on to much more important issues, like where mosques are built.
In a development straight out of Orwell, we were asked to believe not only that the well was capped for good and things were looking up, but that all the oil was gone. Just like that.
"Well, lookie here," the reporting went (and yes, I'm paraphrasing). "No more oil! Abracadabra, presto, change-o, all gone. Nothing to see here folks, move along."
A team of scientists from the University of Georgia begged to differ. Dr. Samantha Joye, team leader who has been on the oil spill literally from day one - the team happened to be doing unrelated research in the Gulf when the well blew out - revealed the results of their latest research last week.
Verdict: As much as 80 percent of the spilled oil remains in the Gulf.
"It is a relief that the volume of surface oil is reduced, as this lowers the probability of oil-fouling of coastal beaches and marshes," writes Joye on her blog at gulfblog.uga.edu.
"While some of the oil has most certainly evaporated, much of it was dispersed and this oil is still floating around, invisible to our eyes, within the ocean's water column. Some of the oil has probably sedimented to the seafloor, where it is also invisible to our eyes. The fact that this oil is ‘invisible' makes it no less of a danger to the Gulf's fragile ecosystems.
"Quite the contrary, the danger is real and the danger is much more difficult to quantify, track and assess," she says.
Joye and her team are on the water again as we speak, on a month-long followup mission. They just received two sizeable "rapid response grants" from the National Science Foundation to purchase equipment they'll need to continue their research.
The University of Georgia's Marine Sciences community has a presence in Savannah, at the UGA Marine Extension Service on Skidaway Island. The facility shares a campus with the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, whose scientists have also contributed a great deal to our understanding of our marine systems.
In his piece "The age of aquaria" this week, our own Bill DeYoung explores the UGA Marine Extension Center aquarium, as well as the aquarium at the Tybee Marine Science Center.