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Video: Biologists use sub to track Gulf oil plume

  1. Closed captioning of: Biologists use sub to track Gulf oil plume

    >> a storm churning in the tropics this morning has crews working on the disaster in the gulf preparing to temporarily evacuate. but there are some people still hard at work. nbc's kerry sanders is in the gulf on the deck of a ship that's about to launch a submarine that will be used to track oil beneath the surface. kerry , good morning to you.

    >> well, good morning, matt. i'm on the aft deck of the stuart johnson. it's a research vessel from florida atlantic university as well as from noaa. are here to actually deploy once again this submarine. that's a four-man submersible. it will go into the water, and what they're looking for is evidence of oil. for the past 12 days , scientists have submerged 20 times. two to three dives a day, to depths of 1800 feet, into an underwater geography known to few, like the sticky ground. here, deep in the gulf of mexico , were moray eels , rare glass sponges, and leatherback turtles , there is cautious optimism. so far, the marine biologists on this mission have found no visible signs of oil. you haven't seen a large underwater plume of oil?

    >> thankfully.

    >> what about those little microscopic pieces of oil floating in the gulf?

    >> we haven't seen those yet. and those are very hard to detect.

    >> to determine if specks of oil, too small to see without a mass spectrometer , have spread this far, the submersible and another unmanned collection container are gathering water samples at various depths. and they're harvesting sponges, because living sponges are filter feeders, pumping hundreds of gallons of water a day.

    >> so by taking some samples of many of the sponges at the sites, we may be able to determine if they're concentrating any small amounts of oil and/or dispersants.

    >> the reason oil may come here, the so-called loop current , which is an undersea highway. ocean experts say the leaking oil that never came to the surface caught in that current could wind up hundreds, even thousands of miles away . that's why the harbor branch oceaneographic team is working with the federal government to get what they believe is a "before" picture of the gulf. it's what scientists call a baseline. so if oil shows up, the government will be able to force bp to clean up the damage, even here, where few people have ever ventured.

    >> what we're doing is the before. we're finding out what this ecosystem is like right now, before any impact, so that if there is an impact later on, you can compare the before and the after so that these quote unquote offending parties can restore that ecosystem back to the way it was before the offense occurred.

    >> mission number 21 deploys shortly and i'm going to be sitting right in that seat right to the right there in the front of the submersible. we're going to go down to about 300 feet. at times this sub goes down to 3,000 feet.

    >> kerry , just a question, are you at all claustrophobic?

    >> i don't think i'm claustrophobic. i guess i'll find out. but i don't think so.

    >> i think that's something the other three people in the sub might want to know right now. kerry , good luck to you, all right? we'll check in with you.

    >> thank you.

Photos: Month 4

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  1. The Blue Dolphin, left, and the HOS Centerline, the ships supplying the mud for the static kill operation on the Helix Q4000, are seen delivering mud through hoses at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. In the background is the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Eddie Forsythe and Don Rorabough dump a box of blue crabs onto a sorting table at B.K. Seafood in Yscloskey, La., on Aug. 3, 2010. The crabs were caught by fisherman Garet Mones. Commercial and recreational fishing has resumed, with some restrictions in areas that were closed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Chuck Cook / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sea turtle hatchlings that emerged from eggs gathered on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida are released at Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2010. The sea turtles were born at a Kennedy Space Center incubation site, where thousands of eggs collected from Florida and Alabama beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been sent. (Craig Rubadoux / Florida Today via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2010. BP is testing the well to see if it can withstand a "static kill" which would close the well permanently. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A boat motors through a sunset oil sheen off East Grand Terre Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay on the La. coast, on the evening of July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oil approaches a line of barges and boom positioned to protect East Grand Terre Island, partially seen at top right, on July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen near an unprotected island in the Gulf of Mexico near Timbalier Bay, off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday, July 28. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Greenpeace activists stand outside a BP gas station in London, England, on July 27 after they put up a fence to cut off access. Several dozen BP stations in London were temporarily shut down to protest the Gulf spill. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Wilson sells T-shirts to those arriving in Grand Isle, La., for the music festival Island Aid 2010 on July 24. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Activists covered in food coloring made to look like oil protest BP's Gulf oil spill in Mexico City on July 22. The sign at far left reads in Spanish "Petroleum kills animals." (Alexandre Meneghini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People in Lafayette, La., wear "Keep Drilling" tee shirts at the "Rally for Economic Survival" opposing the federal ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, July 21. Supporters at the rally want President Obama to lift the moratorium immediately to protect Louisiana's jobs and economy. (Ann Heisenfelt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A flock of white ibis lift off from marsh grass on Dry Bread Island in St. Bernard Parish, La., July 21. Crews found about 130 dead birds and 15 live birds affected by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 19 in the eastern part of the parish behind the Chandeleur Islands. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the BP Oil Spill Victim Compensation Fund testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was to examine the claim process for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An American white pelican has its wings checked during a physical examination at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital by Michael Adkesson and Michael O’Neill on July 21. The bird, along with four other pelicans, was rescued from the Gulf Coast oil spill and will be placed on permanent exhibit at the zoo. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Native people of the Gwich'in Nation form a human banner on the banks of the Porcupine River near Ft. Yukon, Alaska July 21, in regard to the BP oil spill with a message to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. The images include a Porcupine caribou antler and a threatened Yukon River Salmon. (Camila Roy / Spectral Q via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Gerald Herbert / AP
    Above: Slideshow (15) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 4
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    Digitalglobe / Getty Images Contributor
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  4. Image: Dispersed oil caught in the wake of a transport boat floats on the Gulf of Mexico
    Hans Deryk / Reuters
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  5. Image:
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Map: Gulf oil spill trajectory

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