Photos From The Gulf: Oily Ecosystems Near BP's Well

Researchers studying the effects of the BP oil spill are journeying to the seafloor aboard a small submarine named Alvin. They're finding a layer of oily sediment atop the normal gray mud. Though oil does naturally seep from the floor in some parts of the gulf, the effects of the massive deluge of oil are still unknown.

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    The Alvin submarine is launched earlier this month from the research vessel Atlantis, a ship operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Scientists on the expedition were exploring unusual biological ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico and are trying to understand the effects of the BP oil spill.
    Richard Harris/NPR
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    Once the deep-sea sub is in the water, swimmers Jerry Graham (left) and Kami Bucholz make final preparations for a dive. Alvin has made more than 4,600 dives around the world.
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    Samantha Joye, a professor of marine sciences at the University of Georgia, records data while aboard the Alvin. On this dive, about 10 miles from BP's Macondo well, she collected samples of sediment on the seafloor.
    Richard Harris/NPR
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    Bruce Strickrott is in charge of Alvin's operations. Here, he monitors a dive from Alvin's control center aboard Atlantis.
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    At the bottom of the Gulf, Alvin explores a wall of methane ice where crabs feed on small worms that live in the nooks in the ice. The two red laser spots are about four inches apart.
    Courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/NPR
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    Scientists pull a discolored crab from the bottom of the ocean that may have been harmed by the oil spill.
    Richard Harris/NPR
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    Joye (center in red) and other researchers examine core samples brought up from the seafloor. The team uses the cores to study the oily sediment that coats the bottom of the ocean.
    Richard Harris/NPR
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    Many of the core samples studied so far have a dark top layer that scientists say is a mixture of oil and oil that has been digested by marine life and bacteria.
    Richard Harris/NPR
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    Verena Heuer, a researcher at the University of Bremen in Germany, holds a core sample that was collected about two miles from the Macondo well. A thick layer of brown coats the top of the usually gray mud.
    Richard Harris/NPR
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    Pockets of viscous brown material seep from mud taken from a core sample near the well site.
    Courtesy of Laura Beer/NPR
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    Development Driller III, an oil rig, maintains an existing well in the Gulf of Mexico, just eight miles from where it drilled the first relief well for the Macondo well. The area remains active for oil and gas extraction.
    Richard Harris/NPR

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