The Gulf oil spill is recognized as the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Within days of the April 20, 2010 explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people, underwater cameras revealed the BP pipe was leaking oil and gas on the ocean floor about 42 miles off the coast of Louisiana. By the time the well was capped on July 15, 2010 (87 days later), an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil had leaked into the Gulf.
The well was located over 5,000 feet beneath the water’s surface in the vast frontier of the deep sea—a permanently dark environment, marked by constantly cold temperatures just above freezing and extremely high pressures. Scientists divide the ocean into at least three zones, and the deep ocean accounts for about three-quarters of Earth’s total ocean volume.
Immediately after the explosion, workers from BP and Transocean (owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig), and many government agencies tried to control the spread of the oil to beaches and other coastal ecosystems using floating booms to contain surface oil and chemical oil dispersants to break it down underwater. Additionally, numerous scientists and researchers descended upon the Gulf region to gather data. Researchers are still trying to understand the spill and its impact on marine life, the Gulf coast, and human communities.