Patty in the News

Between tracking the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, helping guide cleanup crews and testing oysters for contamination, scientists at Seattle's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office also have developed a new website that will help the public and officials monitor progress and damage as the oil continues to spread.

A version of is being tested. The official version will be unveiled next week, said Amy Merten, chief of the spatial data team at NOAA's Seattle-based Emergency Response Division.

The site isn't ready for prime time, Merten cautioned. When it is, it will show the path the oil slick is likely to follow, share zoomable satellite images and provide data on biologically sensitive areas at risk, she told U.S. Sen. Patty Murray during a briefing Tuesday on NOAA's local oil-spill efforts.

Experts at NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center have analyzed about 300 samples of fish, oysters and shrimp collected before the spill, division Director Walton Dickhoff said. Baseline data will be compared against samples collected after the oil moves in, to help decide when it is safe to reopen fishing, he said.

Local NOAA staffers' highest-profile task is projecting where the oil slick will go. They rely on satellite images, weather forecasts, ocean-current data and computer models, coordinator Doug Helton said.

The team was criticized for its early estimate that at least 84,000 gallons of oil a day were rushing from the ruptured well. BP's first estimate was 42,000 gallons.

The 84,000 figure was based on the amount of oil visible on the surface and never was meant to be considered the definitive number, Helton said.

A team of federal scientists last week reviewed aerial photos and images from the underwater gusher, coming up with a more accurate estimate of 504,000 to 798,000 gallons a day.

Murray reiterated her call to rewrite the law that caps liability for spills at $75 million, recalling how Exxon battled in court to reduce damages paid to fishermen after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.

"Large pockets and big attorneys have the ability to outlast fishermen," she said.

- Seattle Times