Author Archives: jiyajung

The Gulf of Mexico Still Far From Recovery

A video of the BP Spill Explained: YouTube Preview Image

The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, also known as the BP Spill occurred on April 20, 2010 is known as the largest accidental marine oil spill in history[1]. The cleanup was done by burning the oil, and using chemical dispersant as well as oil-eating microbes. Microbes are small unicellular organisms. Alcanivorax borkumensis use oil as food[2]. By August 2010, most of the oil on the surface of the ocean was dissipated[3], but about 79% of the oil was still under the surface[4]. The BP (British Petroleum) compensation czar claimed that the Gulf would be recovered by 2012, however, research conducted by marine biologist Dr. Joye demonstrated that the oil is not degrading fast enough[5].

Joye’s research included 5 expeditions using deep-dives into the Gulf of Mexico near the oil spill to collect 250 samples from the ocean-floor and water columns. Her study found that much of the oil spill on the ocean floor and the water columns were from the BP spill. This was done by chemically fingerprinting the oil, and testing the samples in labs.

According to Joye’s findings, the oil-eating microbes that were thought to degrade most of the oil spill consumed about 10% of the oil spill. The rest are dispersed throughout the Gulf as small droplets, which can’t be seen on the surface, but a large amount of the oil droplets sank to the ocean-floor. Moreover, the mucous secretion from the oil-eating microbes which also contain oil sank to the bottom, on top of many bottom-dwelling sea creatures, such as starfish and crabs. Joye’s estimate of the total amount of oil leaked into the ocean is equivalent to 1.5 and 3 million barrels, and she thinks that the recovery will be much slower than what the BP czar claimed.

Oil on Floor

A wall of methane ice on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The damage done by this accident propose a much long-term effect on the fragile marine ecosystem as well as the marsh in Louisiana. Before reading about Joye’s research, I used to believe that the oil spill was recovering fast, mostly by the oil-munching microbes. However, the pictures and the data collected from the bottom of the ocean by Joye changed my opinion, that under the turquoise-blue surface of the ocean, the sea-floor is still struggling to recover.

The long-term public health implications from this spill is unknown, and still needs to be studied.

An Interview with Dr. Samantha Joye at the UGA Oil Spill Symposium on 26th of January 2011:

YouTube Preview Image






Are we headed towards extinction?

Is it true? Although it is highly debated, our current understanding of science shows that we are facing the next  mass extinction event of the Earth. Many palaeontologists agree that the dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. This mass extinction event called the Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) Extinction wiped out more than 50% of all species on the planet.

The KT Extinction was caused by a giant asteroid of diameter greater than 10km  that hit the Yuccatan Peninsula of Mexico 65 million years ago, leaving the Chicxulub Impact Crator of more than 180 km in diameter! Initially, this impact vaporized everything close to its vicinity instantaneously, and created an enormous tsunami. A dense cloud formed of debris from the impact created a series of long term effects.  One of which was a global acidic rain phenomenon killing many plants on the surface of the land and causing over 80% of the  marine species.

The KT Extinction was the last mass extinction the Earth has had, but there had been four others beforehand: Late Ordovician, Late Denovian, Late Permian, and Late Triassic. It has been suggested that we are heading towards the 6th mass extinction with our current rate of species going extinct (for example, the Dodo bird, and the Marsupial wolf). Extinction of different types of species on our planet suggest that a smaller variance of creatures will have the ability to survive the next type of mass extinction event whether it be a flood, giant meteor or global climate change.

Marsupial Wolf

Dodo Birds From Ice Age!

In 1984, D. Raup and J. J. Sepkoski analyzed the number of asteroid extinctions during the history of Earth and concluded that there was a mass extinction event every 25 million years. This landmark paper has been cited in over 400 scholarly sources and has led the start of many theories of possible mass extinction scenarios.

So if Raup and Sepkoski’s prediction is true, and our human race faces the next mass extinction event, will we be able to survive?

The Origin of Our Solar System

Has anyone ever wondered about how the world, and our solar system started? I have countless times, but I am still questioning our current theory of origin, the Nebular Hypothesis.

A. solar nebula B. contraction into rotating disk C. Cooling causing condensing into tiny (dust sized) solid particles D. Collisions between these form larger bodies E. These accrete to form planets

First proposed by Emanuel Swedenborg, the Nebular Hypothesis is the most widely accepted theory for the origin of our solar system. It is based upon the assumption that the universe already exists under the Big Bang theory. Under this model, the  molecular hydrogen and “dust particles” had clumped together to form a giant cloud, called a nebula. Due to their own gravity, they collapsed, spiralling down to the centre of the cloud to form a central mass and a rotating flattened disk. High concentration in the center of the cloud lead to temperature and pressure increases, and resulted in nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion was the process of which hydrogen molecules fused together, released energy and formed the Sun. The “leftover” dust clumps became the planets, and this is the current theory of how the Solar System came to be. It explains why the planets revolve around the Sun on the ecliptic plane, and the proximity of terrestrial planets and gaseous planets.

However, I question how the hydrogen molecules came together to make a giant ball in the first place. I thought that gaseous molecules have a tendency to go from areas of high concentration to low concentration. Did the gravity of one hydrogen molecule attract another hydrogen molecule, and eventually became a huge giant cloud of hydrogen, and suddenly collapse? The force of gravity of one hydrogen atom to another would not be such a significant force, as Fg = km1m2/ r2, and the constant, k is a very small number of 9.0*10-9.

I am sceptical. What about the second law of thermodynamics, entropy? Molecules want to increase their entropy, and disperse when they can. Would there be any other forces that attracted the hydrogen molecules and dust particles together besides the force of gravity? Perhaps one day, we will be able to understand the mechanisms of our world better.