Wednesday, the exploration vessel, Nautilus, is gearing up to leave Gulfport for a mission in the Gulf of Mexico. Not much remains of U-166, a German submarine sunk in the Gulf during World War II. The crew of the Nautilus used underwater submersibles to capture video of the wreckage.
The exploration vessel is run by Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the wreck of the Titanic in the 1980s. Susan Poulton of the Nautilus crew says, “It's a pretty remarkable experience, especially with Dr. Ballard onboard and be present when we're exploring a ship wreck site with him guiding the teams is a pretty amazing event.” The vessel does more than search for old shipwrecks. The Nautilus is essentially a floating science lab, able to conduct a number of experiments important to the Gulf Coast.
Thursday morning, the Nautilus left the Port of Gulfport on a mission to better understand the BP oil spill to prepare for future disasters. Poulton also says, “So when incidents happen in the Gulf, we can inform the public where the oil is going and what the impact will be.”
The big mystery about the BP spill that remains is what happened to much of the oil? Scientists on the Nautilus think underwater currents carried a lot of it away, but to be sure, the Nautilus will map these currents to understand how they work. Chris Roman, the Expedition Leader, says, “Something like the oil spill that happened, we want to know about it, but it’s hard to do that if you don't know what changed, so we're after the baseline.”
The science team will also study how the spilled oil is breaking down naturally in the Gulf. This will help prepare cleanup teams in the event of a future spill. Roman closes, “We want to know how much of this will get consumed naturally versus how much has to be consumed immediately.”
The Nautilus will be out in the Gulf for the next several weeks.