Is the Gulf Recovering Faster Than Expected?

| Mon Sep. 13, 2010 3:26 PM EDT

This is all tentative and preliminary, so don't break out the champagne yet. Still, it's increasingly looking like the Gulf might be recovering from the BP blowout more quickly than we expected:

As the weeks pass, evidence is increasing that through a combination of luck (a fortunate shift in ocean currents that kept much of the oil away from shore) and ecological circumstance (the relatively warm waters that increased the breakdown rate of the oil), the gulf region appears to have escaped the direst predictions of the spring.

While its findings were disputed by some, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported several weeks ago that the oil was breaking down and dispersing rapidly, probably limiting future damage from the spill.

And preliminary reports from scientists studying the effects on marshes, wildlife and the gulf itself suggest that the damage already done by the spill may also be significantly less than was feared — less, in fact, than the destruction from the much smaller Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989.

On the less optimistic front, however, the piece acknowledges that "The spill’s greatest scientific challenge may be understanding how the oil is interacting with the undersea environment. The oil was released 5,000 feet beneath the water’s surface and then treated with an unprecedented volume of chemical dispersants. Some enormous fraction — how much is disputed — formed at least one great undersea plume of microscopic droplets." For more on this, see Julia Whitty's definitive take on the potential undersea damage in our current issue.

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