Hunting an oil spill beneath the waves


A SMALL dinghy bobs on the ocean a few miles off the Irish coast. Two men in dark clothes lower a pipe into the water, switch on a pump and chemicals start to flow. To the untrained eye, it looks distinctly dodgy. But these men are from the Irish navy and the chemicals they are dumping are creating a simulated oil spill, to be sniffed out by a team of robots lurking in the depths below.

I’m aboard LÉ Róisín, an Irish Naval Service patrol ship, with a team of scientists who think they have a uniquely effective way of dealing with oil spills.

The project leader is Javier Gilabert of the Technical University of Cartagena, Spain. Inspiration came to him following the huge Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. The accident drove home how strangely oil can behave in the water. Much of it didn’t rise straight from the ruptured well to the surface but remained trapped in the water column, where it spread out and then “popped up in unexpected places”, says Gilabert.


Read the rest of this story at New Scientist here (£).