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Researchers Sample Sea Life At Site Of Oil Spill

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Researchers Sample Sea Life At Site Of Oil Spill

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Researchers Sample Sea Life At Site Of Oil Spill

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

This week, scientists in the Gulf of Mexico are taking daily dives to the seafloor in a submarine. They're getting a close look at exotic ecosystems that could be at risk because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Later this week, they'll be the first researchers to see in person the seafloor near the blown out oil well.

Well, NPR's Richard Harris is going along on this expedition, and he's on the line now from the research ship Atlantis.

And, Richard, tell us exactly where you are. Where is the ship in the Gulf?

RICHARD HARRIS: Well, Mary Louise, we're about 95 miles off the coast of Louisiana, in an area called the Green Canyon. And on maps, this part of the ocean sort of looks like a giant mudflat that eventually ends up being canyons, and we're in one of those canyons, Green Canyon. And I must say, I always thought this was kind of a boring and muddy place. But it turns out the scientists on board have already found weird and fascinating things, like lakes of brine and little mud volcanoes and all sorts of wild and interesting animals.

KELLY: And that stuff, presumably, would have been there anyway. Are they able to chart any of the damage yet that may have been wreaked by the oil spill?

HARRIS: Well, at the moment, they're operating a good distance from the well, and they have been taking daily dives with a little submarine called the Alvin. This mission was actually planned in 2007 to survey these sites with the Alvin well before the oil spill. As it happens, though, the chief scientist on this cruise is Samantha Joye from the University of Georgia. And we've heard her earlier on our air talking about the fact that she has found oil residue on the seafloor in a large area around the Macondo well. Those samples were taken from ships and so on. And Alvin is going to dive down with Samantha Joye and me, I hope, on Saturday, and we'll get the first up-close and personal view of oil on the seafloor.

KELLY: Wow. It sounds so exciting. So do you have any idea what you're expecting to see once you get down there to the bottom of the ocean?

HARRIS: Well, we're diving in an area where she took core samples before and saw actually fairly thick deposits of fluffy oily material, actually a few inches deep on the seafloor. And the life below that in the mud had been killed. And I asked her today: What do you think we'll see this time around? And she said, well, her bet is that she's going to see more oil on the seafloor, but she doesn't know, of course. That's why we're going there. She's going to take more mud samples, and we'll bring them up in the Alvin and get a close look at this. Her observations about how much oil on the seafloor have been fairly controversial. So she hopes she'll gather some data that will help put those questions to rest.

KELLY: Some hard data there. Fascinating stuff. Thanks very much, Richard.

HARRIS: My pleasure.

KELLY: And Richard is reporting there from the research ship Atlantis out in the Gulf of Mexico.

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