PASCAGOULA — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship Gordon Gunter will depart today for an eight-day venture to conduct research on a plume near the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The 224-foot research ship, led by commander Dave Score, will carry 19 crew members and 16 scientists and join the six vessels already in the Gulf conducting research.
Gordon Gunter is equipped with new technologies that allow the crew to retrieve samples 4,000 to 5,000 feet underwater. “One of the real challenges of dealing with this particular oil spill is with the extreme depth that it’s at,” said chief scientist Russell Brown.
A new piece of equipment that will allow the crew to collect water samples and other data at various depths is the autonomous underwater vehicle from Monterey Bay Research Institute in California. It has been modified to collect 10 water samples each time it is sent underwater.
The ship has labs on board where the samples are processed. The Gordon Gunter also holds a dry lab that works with acoustics. Frequencies will be sent into the water to detect underwater plumes, and Brown said most of the information will be transmitted to Unified Command as soon as it is received. NOAA is aided in this mission by the University of New Hampshire, Monterey Bay Research Institute, and the University of South Florida.
Prior to this mission, the Gordon Gunter, built in 1989, was in the Gulf conducting research on the reproductive successes of the blue-fin tuna. The project was cut short by nearly a week so the ship could be used to research the oil spill. “NOAA and science planning teams have to look at what the priorities are in relation to what our mission was, so they re-tasked it near the end of it because of what was going on,” Score said Additional research of that study will continue on this cruise, but the focus of the mission will shift to looking at the effects of the oil spill.