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Gulf oil spill researcher Mandy Joye sets sail to discover BP spill's impacts

A view of the BPoil slick off the Louisiana coast back on May 24, 2010, as seen by a NASA satellite
A view of the BPoil slick off the Louisiana coast back on May 24, 2010, as seen by a NASA satelliteMichon Scott, NASA's Earth Observatory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Samantha ("Mandy") Joye is setting sail within hours on a cruise back to the Macondo wellhead site, sailing aboard the research vessel "Atlantis". The Macondo site lies about 40 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Mississippi Canyon.

Joye, as readers of this column may recall, has not only been investigating the true impacts of the BP oil spill since it occurred in Apr. 2010, but organized a conference in early 2011 at which this examiner spoke, alongside reporters from NPR and the New York Times. She is a professor in the Marine Sciences Department at University of Georgia.

The expedition, which will include Joye diving in the "Alvin" submersible, will attempt to dredge up sediment samples that inform her analysis of what has occurred far beneath the ocean surface. Joye is bringing along a team of scientists and deep-sea experts such as Woods Hole Oceanographic's Bruce Strickrott, who manages Alvin expeditions.

Submersibles and Woods Hole, located in Mass., have recently gained international attention for their potential use and help in locating the missing plane MH370 and or its remnants.

Scientists will take pictures deep in the water column, and once they've brought up sediment samples, seek to ascertain chemical effects such as evidence of methane. They will also be studying how marine life are behaving and other effects that inform how this event, which bled an estimated five million gallons of oil into the Gulf, is impacting the environment.

Back in Feb. 2011, Joye found evidence of oily sediment and sick or dying marine life such as tubeworms. In a November 2010 dive she found mysteriously red and pink sediments in the middle of the Orca basin, as this examiner reported.

Joye has long been both an investigator and a critic of the Gulf, her work at University of Georgia predating the spill. Besides the effects of the BP oil, dousing Corexit in the Gulf waters in the weeks following the blowout has been linked to health damage in humans and marine life alike.

The potent dispersant, banned in England, has drawn the ire of Joye's keynote speaker at the 2011 "Building Bridges in Crisis" symposium, Dr. Sylvia Earle. A National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Earle appeared before Congress in May 2010 to rail against its toxicity.

Joye and her team will stay out on the Gulf, as close as two nautical miles from the Macondo site, for nearly a month. During this time, Alvin will deliver her more than 2,000 meters (over 1.25 miles, roughly) deep into the ocean.

The Examiner was invited to media day this past week but could not attend; look for coverage of Joye's dive toward the end of April.