The 2010 BP oil spill left an oily “bathtub ring” on the sea floor roughly the size of Rhode Island, according to a new study.

The rig blew on April 20, 2010, and spewed 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf through the summer. Scientists are still trying to figure where all the oil went and what effects it’s had.

Study author David Valentine, a geochemistry professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, estimated that the spill from the Macondo well left about 2 million barrels (84 million gallons) of oil coagulated on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico around the damaged Deepwater Horizons oil rig.

In the study, using data from the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the scientists analyzed more than 3,000 samples collected at 534 locations, and identified a 1,250-square-mile patch of the deep sea floor where 2 to 16 percent of the discharged oil was deposited.

“There’s this sort of ring where you see around the Macondo well where the concentrations are elevated,” Valentine told the Associated Press. The study was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Based on the evidence, our findings suggest that these deposits come from Macondo oil that was first suspended in the deep ocean and then settled to the sea floor without ever reaching the ocean surface,” Valentine said in a statement. “The pattern is like a shadow of the tiny oil droplets that were initially trapped at ocean depths around 3,500 feet and pushed around by the deep currents. Some combination of chemistry, biology and physics ultimately caused those droplets to rain down another 1,000 feet to rest on the sea floor.”


CBS News, “BP Oil Spill Left a ‘Bathtub Ring’ the Size of Rhode Island, Study Says.”

Incredibly, BP responded that the study authors had “failed to identify the source of the oil,” which is a bit like denying you’d taken a shit in the pool when your swim trunks are lined with feces.

This rare critter is a new species of the Ceratioid Anglerfish, Called Lasiognathus  dilema (Lophiiformes: Oneirodidae) ) is described on the basis of three female specimens collected in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

The name dinema, is derived from the Greek, di, a prefix meaning ‘‘two,’’ and nema, ‘‘thread,’’ in allusion to the two elongate, thread-like prolongations emerging anteriorly from the bases of the escal hooks of this species 

Located in the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s barrier island Sanibel, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States. The refuge is world famous for its spectacular migratory bird populations – providing an important habitat to over 230 species of birds. The best months to visit for birding are December through March during low tide when the birds are feeding on the exposed mud flats. Sunset photo by Al Hoffacker.
Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill - Where did it all go?


On April 20th, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by BP and operating on the Macondo Well, exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico. While it not only was deadly to 11 workers, it is also considered one of the worst accidental marine oil spill in history. After the rig sank, an oil gusher on the sea floor flowed for 87 days before it was capped off. 87! The American government estimated the total discharge at roughly 5 million barrels! The spill was by far the largest in US history, almost 20 times greater than the estimate of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

(Everybody surely remembers watching the steady flow of oil leaking into the Gulf. Source)

While the spill also had obvious impacts on the health and economy of the area, the environmental damage was huge and difficult to deal with. The Gulf of Mexico is a very prosperous area for many marine species. The spill area hosts 8,332 species of plants and animals, including more than 1,270 fishes, 1,500 crustaceans, 5 sea turtles and 29 marine mammals. In the month of November following the spill, over 6,000 animals were found dead, deep sea corals around the oil gusher had been damaged, and scientists were witnessing mutated fishes or severely ill marine mammals. 


Where are we at almost 5 years later?

It is quite challenging for scientists to match the amount of oil that went into the ocean with the amount that went out of it. The oil traveled in many directions, by different means and through different depths. Some oil particles floated at the surface, some ended up in salt marshes or beaches through the currents, some was trapped by deep ocean currents at 4,000ft, and some sank into the seafloor. 

About one million barrels were recovered, and another two million floated to the sea surface. Scientists therefore believed that the two million barrels missing (about 84 million gallons) were trapped in the Gulf’s deep water currents.


University of California researcher David Valentine just published a new study in October 2014 quantifying the oil that remained trapped deep in the ocean and rained down on the ocean floor, and also where it fell. 

Valentine and his colleagues found that 4 to 31 % of oil trapped in the deep ocean (which accounts for 2 to 16% of the total oil discharged) fell within a 1,250 square-mile patch, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island. 

(Hydrocarbons from the Deepwater Horizon spill overlaid on sea floor bathymetry of the study area. The white star identifies the location of the BP Macondo well. Source:

Those tiny bits of oil appeared to have clumped together into bits that were more dense than water and fell to the seafloor, Valentine said, accumulating in a pattern that forms a giant “bathtub ring” on the ocean floor.

Unsurprisingly, BP has disputed the findings of this study, claiming that the scientists did not show that the oil particles found in the sediment actually came from the Macondo Well. Nevertheless, the authors argue that such chemical analyses are unnecessary, as the location of the concentrations as well at their levels clearly point towards the Macondo Well spill. 

In April 2014, a study reported that many species in the Gulf were still dying in record numbers and were struggling to recover. It matches the reports around Prince William Sound, where, 25 years after the wreck of Exxon Valdez, there are still some species that have not fully recovered. Needless to say, the long-term effect on the global food chain and marine ecosystem remains unknown, and scientists have a long way to go before understanding the full impact of the spill. 


Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

From the International Space Station, Expedition 42 Flight Engineer Terry W. Virts took this photograph of the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Gulf Coast at sunset and posted it to social media on Dec. 14, 2014.

The space station and its crew orbit Earth from an altitude of 220 miles, traveling at a speed of approximately 17,500 miles per hour. Because the station completes each trip around the globe in about 92 minutes, the crew experiences 16 sunrises and sunsets each day.

Image credit: NASA/Terry Virts