The plumes of oil and gas spreading from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, which have the potential to create a low-oxygen dead zone, have attracted intense scrutiny from researchers. As part of the team that first discovered the plumes in May, biogeochemist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, Athens, has been working full throttle to study the plumes and understand what kind of an impact they might have on marine life.
The effort has thrust Joye in the limelight. Her team's first report of the plume became the lightning rod in a tussle between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and academics about the reality of the subsurface hydrocarbons and the pace of research.
From a profile of Joye in this week's issue of Science:
Just 10 minutes after the story went online, Joye's phone began to ring. Reporters kept calling until 2 a.m., she says, when she unplugged the phone. News trucks were parked in front of her office on the campus. "I didn't have a minute's peace," she says. "It was absolutely insane."
The media maelstrom did not go unnoticed at NOAA. On Monday, 17 May, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco released a cautious statement emphasizing that the Pelican cruise hadn't yet confirmed the presence of oil in the plumes and that the falling oxygen levels weren't an immediate danger to marine life.