TODAY   |  July 29, 2010

Where has the Gulf oil slick gone?

Experts point to a variety of factors:  evaporation, the work of chemical dispersants and even being eaten by microbes, but all agree that hundreds of thousands of barrels are still lurking in the water. NBC’s Lisa Myers reports.

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>> million gallons of oil gushed out of that leak in the gulf before a temporary cap stopped the flow nearly two weeks ago. now, crews are struggling to find the oil on the surface of the water. so, where did it all go? nbc's lisa myers is in new orleans this morning. lisa, good morning to you.

>> hey, matt, good morning. we spent ten hours out over the gulf over the last few days and found only isolated patches of oil on the surface. but scientists say there is still plenty of oil out there. and they remain greatly concerned about the continuing damage to the environment, and to wildlife. we went out to track the oil with pilot bonnie shumaker, a committed environmentalist. who has been out over the oil almost daily since mid-may.

>> every day there's less and less to see.

>> there was thick oil as far as the eye could see. now we find occasional blotches of orange.

>> we're having trouble finding patches of oil. that doesn't mean we're not going to stay prepared until the flow is killed.

>> reporter: but as we traveled offed southern coast of louisiana on wednesday, it didn't take us long to find oil.

>> we are six miles off louisiana and are beginning to see significant fingers of crude oil , both on and underneath the water. streaks of emulsified crude bleeding into the water. surrounded by oil sheen. the strands of oil are heading toward an island, and there are no response vessels. at another location, there is even more oil. rows and rows of it. here there are skimmers. where has the rest of the oil gone? experts say it's evaporated and been eaten by microbes. but there's hundreds of thousands of barrels still lurking in the water.

>> we should continue to worry about the oil that may be in the flow, and the oil that's in the water but below the surface.

>> reporter: and experts say worry about how all that oil, mixed with an unprecedented 1.8 million gallons of dispersants, sim pacting birds and marine animals. what have you observed about what's happening to wildlife?

>> well, i'm seeing much less of it. and i'm seeing none of it where i would like to see it.

>> reporter: more than 3,500 pelicans, sea turtles and other wildlife have been found dead. on our journey we saw some flocks of birds, but not as many as usual. even in their favorite nesting grounds. even though the oil is now largely out of sight, government officials say it could keep washing up on the beaches for weeks. and scientists warn, matt, that it could be years before we know the full environmental impact .

>> all right, lisa, thank you very much. that's lisa myers in new orleans for us