Oil spill in Brazil

As animal death toll increases, researchers may have found location of oil leakage

The source of the oil spill is still shrouded in mystery

Wildlife death toll increases

Image credit: Coppe

The ongoing environmental crime along the northeastern coast of Brazil, where a massive oil spill is impacting coastal ecosystems and killing wildlife, illustrates with horrifying colors how the current federal government is utterly incompetent and uninterested in its country and the environment.

The spill was first spotted at the crack of September, yet the government sat on its hands for the whole of the month and only started doing something on October 7th, but not anywhere near what is necessary and urgent to do.

In fact, the public prosecutors’ office has filed a motion to force the government to put into the action the measures laid out in the national plan to deal with oil spill in national waters, something the federal government should have done from the off.

Technical staff of the Ministry of Environment say their new bosses ignore science and technical advice. Instead of rolling up their sleeves and trying to curb the spill, used precious time trying to find culprits, even blaming Venezuela (in current Brazil, a stand-in for communism), despite there being no proof of the oil coming from that country (in fact, barrels with the Shell logo have washed ashore in some parts of the northeast).

Now, Brazil is literally is literally crying over spilt oil while locals and environmentalists scurry to mitigate the damage wherever it is possible to do. The black, tarry material has spread itself over too large an area already, affecting, for example an estuary that is a manatee sanctuary and a coral protection area of 120 km (74.5 miles) between the states of Pernambuco and Alagoas.

Of course, no one will ever know how many animals will have died, since only a small fraction gets carried to the shore. In most cases, they will be taken by currents further afield, their bodies will decompose and be predated upon.

Source of the spill

On Thursday (October 17), Brazilian media reported that researchers may have found the source of the spill. According to study carried out by staff at Coppe, a research organization at the federal university of Rio de Janeiro, the leak could have occurred in a region about 600 km and 700 km off the coast of Sergipe and Alagoas states.

They used a method called inverse modeling, which departs from the spots where the oil arrived on the coast and traces it back to where they came from. The study was commission by the Navy. The methodology also enabled researchers to pinpoint the 14th of June as the most likely date for the incident.

The research cannot tell the precise spot where the leakage took place but it can estimate a likely area, illustrated by a rectangle whose longest side is 100 km long. “We pictured the small spots moving backwards until they came together mid-Atlantic. With more research, we can narrow it down, but, given the urgency of the situation, this is what we could show now,” Luiz Paulo Assad, a member of the research team, told Exame magazine.

They also estimate that the leak took place during a ship-to-ship operation when oil is transferred from one vessel to another in deep sea, which is considered a very risky operation.

The next step is to make the opposite route of the slick to figure out where it is headed towards.

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