How to settle this controversy – Before we can start cleaning up the oil spill, we have to figure out how big it is, and this has been a problem since BP Oil naturally wants it to be a small as possible, while the people actually doing the clean up need to figure out how big the job is. It turns out that the dangerous greenhouse gas methane can help us out here.

Measuring the methane in the water could give a better idea of how much oil has actually spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil rig pipe could be pumping as much as 100,000 barrels per day into the gulf, although many scientists think the amount may be closer to 5,000.

It turns out that 40% of the leaking crude is made up of methane, and much of this has already dissolved in the water. As the oil rises up to the surface from the leaking pipe below, many US research vessels are already out there, using their equipment to estimate the size of the rising methane gas plumes. In, Jeremy Hsu quotes marine geochemist David Valentine as saying, “I don’t think finding plumes is going to be very difficult. Finding all of them will be much trickier. Methane follows the water [currents], so if you can follow the water you’ve got a pretty good idea of where to look for the plumes of gas.”

He thinks that tracking the oil slick size using methane could reveal a lower estimate (which is what BP hopes), but the methane won’t linger in the water forever, and so now the pressure is on NOAA, as well as private researchers, to get started.

We’re still waiting to see if this method works, but YOU don’t have to wait much longer: The great Dreamland Festival is coming to Nashville on June 25 to 27!

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