Measuring methane may give clue to size of Gulf oil spill

May 24th, 2010 - 12:09 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 24 (ANI): A geochemist has said that the extent of oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico can be measured by determining the dissolved methane gas drifting around it.

David Valentine of the University of California, Santa Barbara, called for “a concerted community effort” by scientists, federal officials and British Petroleum to devote at least two research vessels to the methane-measuring mission during the month of June.

Valentine describes the mishap as “the worst oil spill in US history.”

While federal and British Petroleum officials continue to estimate the rate of leakage at 5,000 barrels a day, some scientists studying video of the leak concluded last week that the volume could be vastly larger.

According to the scientist, turbulent flow and the uncertain water content of the oil-water-gas mixture is making it hard to gauge the amount of oil spill, and although satellite photos and boat measurements are helpful to assess the extent of the surface slick, these measures are also highly variable with time, place, weather conditions and dispersant application.

“Although methane from surface-vessel spills or shallow-water blowouts escapes into the air, I expect that the vast majority of methane making the long trip to the sea surface from a deep water spill would dissolve,” Discovery News quoted Valentine saying.

“Unlike oil, methane dissolves uniformly in seawater. And the tools are available to measure it accurately and sensitively,” Valentine added.

In June, he said, “we should aim to get to grips with the size and shape of the methane plumes by gracing water flow with ‘drifting profiling flats’ and through further spot analyses.” The method isn’t perfect, he said, but “it would at least put a lower bound on the total amount of spilled oil” and provide a good estimate of the rate of the spill.

The study is published in an online publication of the journal Nature. (ANI)

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