In April, when the Deepwater Horizon petroleum drilling rig exploded and oil began gushing from a drill hole almost a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists and engineers scrambled to figure out where the oil was going. How much was staying in the depths? Where would it be in a day or a week or a month?
The technical challenges of tracking undersea plumes of oil are huge. Instruments called current profilers can detect currents flowing hundreds of meters below the surface, but until recently they had to be lowered from a ship to their target depth, left in place long enough to get a reading, and then hauled back up so the data could be retrieved-a laborious process not well-suited to an urgent situation.
Now, thanks to a chance encounter and some imaginative tinkering, scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) will be able to take real-time readings of currents and oil plumes deep in the Gulf. The key to the technological breakthrough is the humble sea cable.
Read the complete article in the WHOI magazine Oceanus here.