Author Archives: Stephanie Ellis

Colwell Named National Academy of Inventors Fellow

3884

Dr. Rita Colwell

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) congratulates its Research Board Chair Dr. Rita Colwell for her selection as a National Academy of Inventors Fellow. This honor is the highest professional distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific innovative spirit in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that make a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and welfare of society.

“Dr. Colwell is an amazing innovator and inventor,” said Margaret Leinen, GoMRI Research Board Vice-Chair. “She has more than a dozen patents, most in computational biology.  Her company, CosmosID, includes innovations and inventions of hers applying next generation DNA sequencing to the human micro biome.”

Reflecting on this award, Dr. Colwell said, “I am honored to be selected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). It is gratifying that there is an organization like the NAI which recognizes the important role of academia in the translation of university-based research and discoveries into products benefiting society.”

Colwell is the recipient of other notable awards such as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council for Science and the Environment; the National Medal of Science; the Stockholm Water Prize; the Mahathir Science Award; and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star from the Emperor of Japan. Colwell is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Swedish Royal Academy of Science, Irish Royal Academy of Science, and the Bangladesh and Indian Academies of Science.

Dr. Colwell is a nationally-respected scientist and educator, having held  positions as the Director of the National Science Foundation, National Science Board member, President of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, and Professor of Microbiology and Biotechnology at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. She has authored or co-authored 17 books, more than 800 scientific publications, and has been awarded 61 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education.

The National Academy of Inventors was founded in 2010 to recognize and encourage inventors with patents, enhance the visibility of academic technology and innovation, encourage the disclosure of intellectual property, educate and mentor innovative students, and translate the inventions of its members to benefit society. The academy publishes the multidisciplinary journal, Technology and Innovation, Journal of the National Academy of Inventors.

The GoMRI community joins in the accolades of Dr. Colwell’s exceptional contributions to science and direction as Chair of the GoMRI Research Board.

************

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Identifying the “Missing Link” Between River-Induced Fronts and Hydrocarbon Transport

Researcher Oscar Garcia-Pineda demonstrates some of the methods the team uses to collect imagery and samples of floating oil near MC20. (Provided by Villy Kourafalou)

3859a

Imagery from the project’s high-resolution Gulf of Mexico model represents sea surface salinity distribution when Mississippi waters extended offshore toward the southern Gulf and interacted with the Loop Current (August 2014). (Provided by Villy Kourafalou)

The flow of the Mississippi River into the northern Gulf of Mexico may have caused circulation patterns and fronts that significantly influenced the transport and fate of Deepwater Horizon oil. However, the Gulf’s complex topography and the proximity of variable oceanic currents to the Mississippi Delta make it difficult to monitor and model these processes.

 

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative recently awarded Dr. Villy Kourafalou a grant to investigate and quantify how river-induced fronts and the circulation patterns they create affect hydrocarbon fate and transport in the presence of complex topography and oceanic circulation patterns, such as the Loop Current. The project seeks to improve the accuracy of hydrocarbon pathway predictions using novel satellite data analyses, field surveys, and data-guided high-resolution physical oceanography and oil spill simulations to target missing knowledge links, particularly oil spreading and thickness under different environmental conditions.

3859b

An ASTER satellite image of the project’s May 2016 field campaign and the sampling experiments that targeted areas of different thicknesses. Multiple oil thickness gradients are visible from thin rainbow-sheens to very thick dark-metallic areas of floating oil and emulsions. (Provided by Oscar Garcia-Pineda)

“We want to accommodate this specific oil parameter [oil thickness] that has been challenging to estimate and, therefore, largely missing in oil spill prediction,” said Kourafalou. “We plan to derive a methodology to measure oil spill spreading and thickness and perform comprehensive oil spill simulations that accommodate this additional information.”

The team uses photo-GPS reconnaissance air and boat surveys and optical sensor and synthetic aperture radar data collection to measure the thickness and optical signature of floating oil near a known active leak (Taylor Energy platform, MC20) in the Mississippi River Delta. They conduct their field work during different seasons, environmental conditions, and manifestations of the Mississippi River plume, including low- and high-discharge conditions and interactions with the Loop Current. The researchers will compare field survey measurement to the collected remote sensing data to refine existing algorithms, models, and maps of Deepwater Horizon footprint and surface oil thickness.

3859d

Satellite images based on MODIS (top) and ASTER (bottom) high-resolution satellite data collected May 8, 2016. (Provided by Chuanmin Hu and Oscar Garcia-Pineda)

The researchers will re-simulate Gulf of Mexico conditions from 2008-2017 using their high-resolution Gulf of Mexico Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (GoM-HYCOM), which includes mesoscale Gulf processes and fronts and filaments associated with the Mississippi River plume dynamics. These simulations will help the team carefully study the interactions between Mississippi River and Loop Current frontal dynamics and quantify their influence on hydrocarbon transport, particularly when the Loop Current exports Mississippi River waters southward.

Using their observations of oil thickness and spread, the team will initialize an oil spill simulation for the Deepwater Horizon incident period with more detailed oil slick properties and forcing data. After validating the simulation with satellite data products and available Deepwater Horizon data, the team will investigate how ocean currents and other features, especially river-induced fronts, influenced the surface spreading of Deepwater Horizon oil. Repeated simulations will examine the oil’s transport behavior under various environmental and circulation conditions.

 

 

3859c

Researchers analyze and measure samples collected from the MC20 site to characterize oil thickness. (Provided by Oscar Garcia-Pineda)

The researchers believe that an improved understanding of coastal, shelf-break, and deep-sea interactions could have important implications for oil spill science and for resource management and disaster response. “Oil exploration often takes place off wetlands and rivers, where released hydrocarbons become subject to river-induced currents and fronts,” said Kourafalou. “Understanding how these factors influence oil pathways will help improve the predictions of oil spill models and guide response and recovery efforts.”

 

 

3859e

Imagery of sea surface salinity for a period when Mississippi waters extended offshore toward the southern Gulf of Mexico due to interactions with the Loop Current (August 2014). A special algorithm derived salinity from the ocean color MODIS satellite data (top), which provides substantially improved resolution of features compared to the available salinity imagery from Aquarius satellite data (bottom). (Provided by Chuanmin Hu)

The team is producing outreach products that engage both local coastal communities and the international science community, including middle-school science class materials designed to motivate student career paths in STEM fields and “science made easy” videos distributed through social media.

The project’s researchers are Villy Kourafalou at the University of Miami, Oscar Garcia-Pineda at Water Mapping, LLC, Lars Robert Hole at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, and Chaunmin Hu at the University of South Florida. Their project is Influence of River-Induced Fronts on Hydrocarbon Transport.

************

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Sea Grant Releases Brochure on Oil Spill’s Mental Health Impacts

3854The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative is pleased to announce a new informational brochure about how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill affected the mental health of some Gulf Coast residents. The Sea Grant Oil Spill Outreach Team reviewed published science and worked with experts to develop this brochure for a broad range of audiences, particularly those who live and work across the Gulf Coast.

The brochure The Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s impact on people’s health:  Increases in stress and anxiety highlights impacts on individuals and coastal communities, which varied based on job type, community attachment, and previous disasters encountered.

The Sea Grant Team offers public seminars across the Gulf Coast. Click here to view upcoming science seminars and read about recently-held events. To receive email updates about seminars, publications, and the outreach team, click here.

************

GoMRI and the Sea Grant programs of the Gulf of Mexico (Florida, Mississippi-Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas) have partnered to create an oil spill science outreach program.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

C-IMAGE Releases Aerial Video of OneGulf Expedition

3771Researchers from the Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE, a GoMRI funded center) studied fish and seafloor sediments across the southern, western and northern Gulf of Mexico. Their goals were to understand the lasting impacts of oil spills and to develop baseline levels in Gulf waters.

This aerial footage shows a sample of the work our researchers perform while aboard the R/V Weatherbird II. These studies include using a sediment multicore, bottom longline fishing, and plankton tows (bongo nets).

This research was made possible by a grant from The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative/C-IMAGE II.

ACER Blog Explains Mass Spectrometry

3765

The mass spectrometer used to measure nitrogen compound in sediment samples to calculate denitrification rates. Photo credit: B. Mortazavi

The entry explains that a mass spectrometer, or mass spec for short, has become an important tool in many aspects of science including genetics, biochemistry, pharmaceuticals, environmental science, geology and ecology. The mass spec is an instrument that tells us the masses of specific chemical elements in a sample. Briefly, a mass spec works by converting all of the chemical elements in a liquid, solid or gas sample to ions (‘ionizing’). The instrument then sorts or separates the ion based on their mass (specifically their mass to charge ratio) by applying a magnetic or electric field. A detector then records the specific ions present at specific times in the stream of ions.

An ion is a charged (positive or negative) molecule. A mass spec creates these charged particles by firing electrons at the sample until it all breaks apart. The ions are then shot into an electric or magnetic field. This field causes the ions of different charge to move to the detector at different rates from the chamber where the field is applied. Just as a lighter box is easier to shove than a heavier one, lighter ions are deflected more than heavier ones and reach the detector first.

For more educational entries from the ACER blog, head to the ACER Happenings page.

GoMRI RFP-V: Impact of Deepwater Horizon oil spill on behaviors of fishers in Gulf of Mexico (Saul)

The Avoiding Surprises: understanding the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the decision making behaviors of fishers and how this affects the assessment and management of commercially important fish species in the Gulf of Mexico using an agent-base project is lead by Steven Saul, Arizona State University.

3761

Researcher Steven Saul

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill disrupted the livelihoods of many individuals living along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, ranging from those in the tourism industry to those who fish the Gulf’s waters for a living. Many of those in the fishing industry, and the sectors that depend on it had to modify their operations (i.e. alter their fishing locations, target species, gear used, or trip duration) in the months after the spill due to spatial closures restricting access to potentially polluted waters. Some of the fishing effort during this time was redirected towards assisting with the cleanup efforts associated with the oil spill. This re-tasking had a direct effect on fishing catch and effort in 2010, and perhaps beyond, depending on whether behaviors that were modified due to the oil spill were maintained in the years ahead or if there was a return to the original behavioral patterns that existed before the incident.

To assess the status of commercially important fish stocks in the Gulf of Mexico, the National Marine Fisheries Service relies heavily on information on fish catch and fishing effort that is compulsorily provided by the fishing industry to the government. This information is used to estimate trends in fish abundance over time and serves as inputs to tune the fish population models that are used to establish fishing regulations, such as annual catch limits. At the present time, it is not well understood how the oil spill closures affected the catch of fish and the amount of time/effort fishers needed to use to catch those fish. As a result, it has been difficult for the National Marine Fisheries Service to use the 2010 year of data as a proxy for the trends in abundance that year due to the substantial behavior changes that occurred in the fishing fleet. A biased index of abundance could affect the abundance estimates and the estimated catch limit trajectories stock assessment models provide for future years, as recruitment in future years is dependent on the biomass available in previous years, which is in turn, affected by the fishing mortality that year. Such biases could result in socioeconomic losses to the fishing community by either triggering unnecessary reductions in catch, or conversely increases in catch under conditions where biomass is actually reduced.

To improve our understanding of these dynamics, the goal of this project is to develop a spatially explicit bioeonomic model of some the most important commercial fishery species and the fleets that harvest them in the Gulf of Mexico. The project continues the work initiated by the PI and his collaborators, whom have developed a spatially explicit model for the West Florida shelf that incorporates the behavior of four reef fish species (red grouper, gag grouper, red snapper and mutton snapper) and two commercial fishing fleets (handline and longline) (1). The new proposed model will extend the geographical scope of the current model to the entire US shelf of the Gulf of Mexico, will include additional species (brown shrimp, pink shrimp and menhaden) and two new fishing fleets (shrimp trawlers and menhaden purse seiners). Additionally the model will be modified to incorporate the direct effects of oil pollution on the survival of adult fish and shrimp and the reduction in recruitment caused by impacts of oil on spawner fitness and larval survival. In addition to understanding fleet dynamics, the model will also be used to evaluate long term responses of these populations to the disturbances caused by the oil pollution and by the imposition of fishing closures. Alternative responses to the spill will also be evaluated to understand the scope of the possible effects of different sizes of oil spills on the recovery of these populations.

Click for access to GoMRI’s YouTube videos of RFP-V Projects…

************

This project was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) in the RFP-V funding program.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Study Provides 1st Large-Scale Blue Crab Transcriptome Resource for Insights into Oil Exposure

3849a

A female adult blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) from a coastal Louisiana marsh. Photo credit: Bree Yednock.

Louisiana scientists conducted genetic sequencing on oil-exposed blue crabs to identify genes involved in the blue crabs’ short-term responses to oil. They found approximately 200 genes were significantly up- or down-regulated in gill and hepatopancreatic tissues and about 4,000 genes differed in how their transcripts were spliced together after oil-exposure. The gene expression changes suggest that broad physiological changes may result from oil exposure. This research also revealed new candidates for genes that detoxify and metabolize oil-derived compounds. The authors published their findings in BMC Genomics: De novo assembly of a transcriptome from juvenile blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) following exposure to surrogate Macondo crude oil.

The Deepwater Horizon spill contaminated northern Gulf of Mexico marsh habitats with dispersed crude oil where the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), an economically important species that supports a national commercial fishery, live. Previous studies on oil’s effects on crustacean gene expression have been limited to a small number of stress-response genes for a few brachyuran crab species.

3849b

University of Louisiana Lafayette postdoctoral researcher Bree Yednock dissects a juvenile blue crab in the laboratory at Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Photo credit: Joe Neigel.

This study’s experiment used juvenile blue crabs so that exposures could be conducted in relatively small volumes (3 liters) of water. The researchers used an oil concentration of 2.5 parts per million to produce a stress response that would not be lethal. After the exposure experiments, the team extracted RNA samples from eight juvenile blue crabs (half treated with oil), copied the RNA to DNA, and analyzed the mixtures of DNA sequences using Illumina sequencing.

Over 174 million sequences resulted in 73,400+ assembled transcripts grouped across 52,500+ genes. The researchers compiled the sequencing data into a transcriptome (the set of messenger RNA molecules in cells) and validated it against existing partial sequences for five protein-coding genes. They identified many alternatively-spliced transcripts (where a single gene codes for multiple proteins) in the blue crab transcriptome. Two newly-identified candidates for detoxification and metabolism of oil-derived compounds are genes that also process and metabolize foreign compounds in humans. The team cautioned that patterns of gene expression must be carefully interpreted to avoid confusing treatment effects from other sources of transcriptomic variation.

The sequences generated by this study can contribute to future ecological, biochemical, and population research on differential gene expression or genetic markers. The authors suggested that future studies investigate the potential that widespread differential splicing in response to oil exposure could prevent the translation of genes not immediately involved in stress responses.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at R3.x175.000:0002 and R2.x214.000:0002.

The study’s authors are Bree K. Yednock, Timothy J. Sullivan, and Joseph E. Neigel.

************

This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to University of Louisiana at Lafayette Department of Biology for the project The Environmental Effects of an Oil Spill on Blue Crabs in the Gulf of Mexico and the Dynamics of Recovery: Integrating Oceanography and Molecular Ecology.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Investigating Louisiana Dolphins’ Reproductive Health After Deepwater Horizon

3838a

Megan Tormey (left) and Cynthia Smith (right) of NMMF conduct a voluntary ultrasound examination of a Navy dolphin in San Diego Bay, California, utilizing a heads-up video display (virtual reality glasses) to view the ultrasound image in real time. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy)

Concern about how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may continue to negatively affect wild bottlenose dolphins living in the spill’s footprint remains high. Researchers supporting the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) studied live and stranded dolphins in the heavily affected area of Louisiana’s Barataria Bay and reported that exposed dolphins exhibited increased lung disease, adrenal gland abnormalities, late-term pregnancy losses, and an 80% reproductive failure rate – four times greater than dolphins from unaffected areas. So how are the dolphins doing now?

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative recently awarded Dr. Cynthia Smith a grant to further investigate the dolphins’ reproductive impairment after the oil spill. Many stranded perinatal dolphins (perinates) in this region showed evidence of fetal distress and subsequent death in the womb and exhibited high reproductive failure rate. This project seeks to better understand how oil spill exposure impaired the reproductive health of this population through more precise physiologic measures and to assess how long these negative reproductive effects could last.

3838b

NMMF’s Cynthia Smith (left) and Randall Dear performing ultrasound on a bottlenose dolphin during a previous NOAA-led health assessment. (Photo by Todd Speakman, NOAA; NMFS permit #18786)

The project’s veterinary and research teams will care for dolphins from the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program that have documented health histories and receive ongoing assessments to develop advanced diagnostic techniques that will be applied to Barataria Bay dolphin capture-release field studies. The techniques will help identify fetal, placental, and maternal abnormalities potentially contributing to increased reproductive failure. The teams will use blood-based hormone testing for fetal and placental health evaluations and to assess potential mechanisms driving reproductive failure.

 

3838c

Dolphin Y01 pushing a dead calf in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, in March 2013.
(Photo by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries)

Examinations of live, pregnant Barataria Bay dolphins and comparisons with documented Navy dolphin pregnancies will help establish current maternal health, pregnancy status, and fetal and placental health scores. The researchers will track the reproductive health of Barataria Bay dolphin mothers using boat-based monitoring. Parallel studies will evaluate dead adult and perinatal dolphins stranded during the study period for lesions and cause of death. The team will assess tissue samples from dead perinates for evidence of fetal distress, inflammation, and signs that a breath was taken outside of the womb. Then they will compare results with tissue analyses from historical Navy perinate losses to identify potential risk factors and predictors of late-term perinatal losses.

3838d

Ultrasound image of a dead dolphin fetus acquired by NMMF’s Cynthia Smith and Veronica Cendejas in Barataria Bay 2011 (NMFS permit #932-1905/MA-009526). (Provided by Cynthia Smith)

The project’s researchers believe that the development of advanced technologies and establishment of baseline reproductive health data will enhance the medical evaluation of Barataria Bay dolphins and advance diagnostic capacities for small cetaceans.

Smith elaborated, “This research will lend insight into the progression of disease states that are likely contributing to loss and inform our understanding of the potential timeline for recovery with regard to successful reproduction. Once we define why these animals are losing their babies, we can help determine the best way to develop strategies for their protection and recovery.”

 

3838e

Ultrasound image of a live dophin fetus acquired by NMMF’s Cynthia Smith and Veronica Cendejas in Barataria Bay 2011 (NMFS permit #932-1905/MA-009526). (Provided by Cynthia Smith)

This project’s researchers are Cynthia Smith, Lori Schwacke, and Stephanie Venn-Watson of the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) and Teri Rowles of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Their project is Investigation of Mechanisms for Reproductive Failure in the Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill to Understand Population Recovery Scenarios for Cetaceans.

************

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

How Grad Student Cui Uses River Diversion Models to Inform Oil Spill Remediation

3831a

Linlin creates a movie of the Lagrangian particle tracking to determine the impacts of Davis Pond diversion on salinity gradients in the Barataria Bay. (Provided by Linlin Cui)

When oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill began approaching land, one proposed response was to divert Mississippi River water and sediment into the marshes to try and push surface oil more towards the Louisiana-Texas shelf. Linlin Cui is investigating the impacts of Mississippi River diversions on Barataria Bay hydrodynamics to help inform how future oil spill responders plan and execute freshwater diversions. Her research and its products provide tools for combating the loss of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and for conserving and restoring healthy and productive ecosystems.

Linlin is a Ph.D. student in Louisiana State University’s (LSU) Oceanography and Coastal Sciences program and a GoMRI Scholar with CWC.

Her Path

3831b

Linlin (left), Haosheng Huang (center), and Soroush Sorourian (right) discuss the research process in Huang’s office. (Provided by Linlin Cui)

Linlin grew up in a small fishing town near China’s Yellow Sea. Her childhood included fond memories of tasting new types of seafood and of fishermen selling fresh catches at the local seafood market. Most of China’s eastern coastal areas, including Linlin’s hometown, experienced rapid economic growth since the early 2000s. Booms in the manufacturing industry contributed to serious environmental issues, including coastal water pollution. Today, various fish species are decreasing in number and declining in health and size. “Many people in my small hometown do not know how to protect the coastal environment,” said Linlin. “Seeing all these heart-breaking changes made me wonder if I could do something about it.”

Linlin learned about numerical modeling during the senior year of her marine science undergraduate studies at Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology. Numerical modeling allows researchers to conduct studies using limited historical data and analyze their dynamic processes in accurate and quantitative ways. She studied numerical modeling more closely through Shanghai Ocean University’s fisheries research master’s program, where she independently developed an East China Sea mesoscale meteorological model that was used to investigate the passage of typhoon and enhanced air-sea fluxes. Fascinated by the great potential of numerical ocean models, she joined Dr. Haosheng Huang’s research group 2013 and began work on GoMRI-sponsored coastal ocean and estuarine dynamics studies.

Her Work

A major diversion is under development to push Mississippi River water and sediment into Barataria Bay to help restore coastal Louisiana wetlands affected by Deepwater Horizon oil. Linlin used the Finite Volume Community Ocean Model (FVCOM) to characterize how these diversions may impact Barataria Bay hydrodynamics, including salinity gradients and oil’s residence time in the Bay and adjacent continental shelf, and to predict possible oil slick transport trajectories for future events.

3831c

Linlin and her classmates collect data during an Estuarine Ecology course field trip to Grand Isle. (Provided by Wei Huang)

Linlin helped create and validate a high-resolution FVCOM hydrodynamic model grid for the Louisiana-Texas continental shelf with a horizontal resolution of 10 meters for Barataria Bay. The model uses coupled hydrodynamics-wave-sediment data to simulate oil-particle interactions, oil deposition and resuspension, and sediment erosion and transport in response to frontal and tropical disturbances. Her preliminary simulations showed that Davis Pond and mid-Barataria diversions decreased salinity in the lower Barataria Bay by as much as 5 parts per thousand and decreased oil residence times from 27 to 2 days. “Reduced salinity can cause significant reductions, displacements, or enhancements to fish and shellfish species based on their different tolerances and responses to salinity changes,” she explained.

Linlin’s modeling results can be used to help plan emergency response efforts to disasters such as oil spills. Policy-makers and resource managers can use the model to inform the planning and execution of water and sediment diversions, including identifying the ideal time to open diversions and the optimal volume of water.

Her Learning

3831d

Simulation depicting the Barataria Basin’s surface salinity and current fields after the opening of the Davis Pond diversion. The diversion is intended to push oil from the Gulf oil spill away from coastal wetlands. (Provided by Linlin Cui)

Linlin’s research experiences helped her grow as a scientist and as a member of the scientific community. Working with Dr. Huang, she learned about new meteorological and oceanic models that could be applied to her research. She also became more involved in the scientific community through her participation in conferences such as the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference, the State of the Coast Conference, and the Estuarine and Coastal Modeling Conference and participation in weather research and forecasting model training sessions. She said, “All of the excellent feedback and suggestions from other experienced researchers that I received from these conference and training experiences have broadened my horizons and improved my research.”

Her Future

Linlin hopes to continue her research through a postdoc position in physical coastal ocean research. She recommended that students considering a science career should pursue a field that they truly love and accept failures when they happen, “Failure is a natural process and always part of scientific research – don’t give up easily.” She emphasized the importance of working closely with advisors and learning from their expertise and being involved in the science community.

Praise for Linlin

Dr. Huang highlighted Linlin’s capability and growing knowledge in her field, stating that she is well-versed in the tools required for her research and able to learn new software quickly and apply it. He noted her persistence and carefulness when conducting research, citing her numerical model’s triangular grid as an example. The grid’s construction took more than six months of diligent computer work, delineating characteristic water channel networks and wetlands and engineering structures based on Google Earth imagery and the LiDAR digital elevation model. She validated the model with observational data, but the grid still required adjustments and revisions. “The work is painstaking and requires great patience,” said Huang. “Linlin is determined and has gone through the process enthusiastically.”

Huang praised Linlin’s positivity and ability to work with other researchers, “Linlin is quite polite and friendly to the faculty, staff, and other graduate students in our department. She generously shares her working notes and experiences in high-performance computing and scientific visualization with other students in my group and with people in our university.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Linlin Cui and their important contributions. The GoMRI Scholars Program recognizes graduate students whose work focuses on GoMRI-funded projects and builds community for the next generation of ocean science professionals. Visit the CWC website to learn more about their work.

************
The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

ACER Launches Fact Sheets Series

3801

Introducing ACER is a brief introduction to who ACER is and what they do.

The ACER fact sheet series focuses on the goals and emerging research of the consortium and will consist of 15 total fact sheets, with two fact sheets per each of the seven ACER research groups discussing their research and publications.

The first sheet, Introducing ACER, shares the importance of diversity and resilience to the consortium’s research. The following fact sheets will include a research group spotlight that includes an overview of their experiments, preliminary results, key words, and pictures. These are an excellent classroom resource for science teachers on current research in the northern Gulf Coast and for those with a general interest in oil spill research.

Currently ACER has released three fact sheets: Introducing ACER, Consumer Group, and Wetlands Group. Stay tuned for more to come!

Fact sheets are available in print or online at http://acer.disl.org/outreach/factsheets/.

GoMRI RFP-V: Unraveling the Biotic and Abiotic Chemical Evolution of Macondo Oil (Rodgers)

The The State-of-the-Art Unraveling of the Biotic and Abiotic Chemical Evolution of Macondo Oil: 2010-2018 project is lead by Ryan P. Rodgers, Florida State University.

3797

Researcher Ryan P. Rodgers

Once released into the environment, petroleum undergoes physical processes that modify its native composition (water washing and evaporative losses) and chemical processes (largely oxidative, i.e. photo-oxidation and biodegradation) that we and others have shown results in an increase in oxygen-containing chemical functionalities of the predominately hydrocarbon matrix to ketone, hydroxyl, and carboxylic acid functionalities. Efforts to date have documented these weathering trends for Macondo well oil (MWO) from approx. 10 months post-spill to the present. It has been demonstrated that a pool of persistent oxidized petroleum-derived material increased with increasing weathering of MWO in the environment. However, not much is yet known about the molecular structure of the oxygenated transformation products, its environmental fate, or potential effects, as these oxidized products lie largely outside the conventional gas chromatography analytical window. However, there now exists technology to quantitatively track how the various oil-weathering processes (evaporative, water washing, photo-oxidation and biodegradation) change the petroleum composition at a molecular level. For example, it has been demonstrated that ultra-high resolution mass spectrometric analysis allows identification of 1000’s of oxidative weathering products.

This project aims to apply these techniques in order to understand how these weathering processes occur, to quantify rate(s) of oxygenated oil weathering product formation and degradation, and characterize toxicological effects on the ecosystem. More specifically, this project aims to answer the questions: (1) How does the molecular composition of MWO oil change over time? (2) Which compositional changes are caused by photo-oxidation? Biodegradation? How does the structural / chemical composition of the oil influence oxidation? (3) How does this compositional change influence toxicity of weathered MWO? (4) What is the overall fate of MWO on a time scale of 8 years?

This project will track the continued weathering of MWO and focus on early sampling dates (0-10 months) immediately after the spill, where a rapid formation of oxygenated products is hypothesized, as well as highly weathered samples (to be collected up to eight years after the spill). The proposed analytical methodologies will capture bulk and molecular level, biotic / abiotic temporal compositional changes in the MWO as it weathers in the environment. The efforts will generate a compositional database of the quantitative and qualitative weathering of MWO. Second, analysis of field samples will be combined with controlled laboratory experiments of MWO photo-oxidation and biodegradation. Third, MWO and other oils, their structurally defined fractions, and all weathering products for each, will be screened for toxicity (narcosis), and observed effects will be linked (correlated) to the molecular compositional change in MWO during weathering. Finally, since the structural dependence of weathering will captured herein, along with each fractions toxicity (and water soluble fractions), a simple model will be constructed based on the quantitative yields of each structural fraction, its associated weathering products, and rate of formation. Thus, simple quantitative fractionation of any future contaminant could potentially be used to predict the rate, mass, and type of weathering products formed. The model will be validated against field data collected from the Deepwater Horizon disaster and other recent oil spills.

Click for access to GoMRI’s YouTube videos of RFP-V Projects…

************

This project was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) in the RFP-V funding program.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Study Describes Oil Slick Differences in Natural Seeps and Deepwater Horizon

3827

Figure 3 in the publication. Map of surface oil from Deepwater Horizon across a cumulative footprint of 149,000 square kilometers, April 24, 2010 to 3 August 3, 2010. Provided by Ian MacDonald.

Scientists analyzed synthetic aperture radar satellite (SAR) imagery to compare the magnitude and distribution of floating oil from natural seeps in the Gulf of Mexico and the Deepwater Horizon spill. They found fundamental differences in the surface footprints of chronic background sources (seeps) and large transient anthropogenic discharges (Deepwater Horizon). They published their findings in Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans: Natural and unnatural oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico.

The study team reviewed 166 SAR images and found 914 persistent natural seeps across the Gulf (from 1997-2007). These seeps collectively discharged about 500,000 barrels of oil per year and covered approximately 775 square kilometers of ocean surface.   Over 90% of these seeps are located west of the Mississippi River delta, well away from the Macondo well.  The researchers estimated that slicks from these seeps had an estimated average thickness of 0.1 millimeter (about 1/1000th the thickness of a human hair) and remained near their source, dispersing in 8-24 hours by natural processes.

The Deepwater Horizon spill released several million barrels of oil during 83 days from a single point and covered an average of 11,200 square kilometers of ocean surface. Approximately 30%-50% of this oil reached the ocean surface with an average thickness of approximately 70 millimeters.  Subsea dispersant treatments, recovery, and burning operations reduced surface oil volume but increased the distribution area for the remaining oil.

The study authors acknowledged that determining oil thickness on surface waters is very challenging. However, the technology to do so has improved as author Ian MacDonald explained, “SAR can see through clouds and works in darkness. SAR detects layers of oil because oil tends to flatten out the waves and ripples on the ocean surface.”

The team created an animation of Deepwater Horizon surface oil, updated every 12 hours, from April 24 to August 2, 2010. The animation demonstrates the effects of wind and response efforts, particularly dispersant injection, on surface oil as MacDonald explained, “When we compared two periods of equivalent wind speeds before and after subsea dispersant application, which began around 2 June 2010, we see that the volume of surface oil decreased by 21% after subsea dispersant treatments.  However, the area over which the remaining oil was distributed increased by 49%.”

Video Credit: Animation provided by Ian MacDonald

Data used in this study are available as supporting information in Data Sets 1, 2A, 2B, and Movie S1 and at GRIIDC dataset doi:10.7266/N7KW5CZN. Satellite images listed in supporting information Table S1 are archived at the Alaska Satellite Facility. Interpretations of satellite images listed in supporting information Table S2 can be viewed at http://gomex.erma.noaa.gov/.

The study’s authors are Ian MacDonald, Oscar Garcia-Pineda, A. Beet, Samira Daneshgar Asl, L. Feng, G. Graettinger, D. French-McCay, J. Holmes, Chuanmin Hu, F. Huffer, L. Leifer, Frank Muller-Karger, A. Solow, Mauricio Silva, and G. Swayze.

************

This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf-2 (ECOGIG-2) consortium. Other funding sources included the Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory (DE-NT0005638), the National Science Foundation (EF-0801741), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (M12PC00003), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NNX13AD08G).

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

How Grad Student Seubert Interprets Gulf of Mexico Resiliency Using Predator Diet

3820a

Emily displays a shortfin mako she and her team encountered while conducting longline surveys. (Provided by Emily Seubert)

Major environmental disturbances such as oil spills can alter a marine ecosystem’s structure and even cause species losses or additions in impacted areas – changes which may have long-term consequences for an ecosystem’s functions.

Emily Seubert investigates the diets of marine predators in the northern Gulf of Mexico food web to better understand how the Deepwater Horizon spill may have affected the Gulf’s functional diversity and resiliency. “It is our duty as residents of this planet to protect and care for it,” explained Emily. “The more we understand, the more knowledge we can spread to others and help protect our world.”

Emily is a marine science master’s student with the University of South Alabama and a GoMRI Scholar with the Alabama Center for Ecological Resilience (ACER).

3820b

Emily throws out a baited gangion as she sets the bottom longline. (Provided by Emily Seubert)

Her Path

Emily spent the summers of her Seattle childhood exploring Puget Sound tide pools and being awestruck by orca whale pods that would surround her family’s boat. These experiences drove her desire to study marine science. Emily completed a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences at the University of California, Davis in 2013 and began a master’s degree in marine science at the University of South Alabama and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in 2015. Her desire to learn more about ecosystem interactions and functions sparked her interest in joining her advisor Dr. Marcus Drymon to study effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on species diversity and food web interactions.

Her Work

Functional diversity refers to an ecosystem’s particular biological processes, functions, and characteristics. Previous studies have suggested that the Deepwater Horizon spill reduced the abundance and diversity of consumers at various trophic levels in the Gulf food web, likely altering ecosystem function. Community-level changes documented post-spill showed elevated numbers of predator species compared to pre-spill observations, which could indicate a restructuring of the northern Gulf food web. Emily assesses stable isotope ratios in apex predators (top of the food chain) and mesopredators to investigate the post-spill food web and quantify functional groups, which will help her identify shifts in the system’s functional diversity.

3820c

Emily (left) uses a knife to peel back the skin of a bull shark so she can use a biopsy punch to extract a sample of white muscle tissue. (Provided by Emily Seubert)

Emily extracts blood and muscle tissue samples from predatory shark, ray, and fish species collected in waters around the Chandeleur Islands, Mississippi Sound, and Mobile Bay. She analyzes the samples for carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur stable isotope ratios. Emily explained that carbon 13 – the stable isotope of carbon – does not fractionate as it moves through the food web; therefore, carbon’s stable isotope ratio is useful for identifying the source of organic matter that fuels a food web. Similarly, sulfur does not fractionate and its stable isotope ratio can help differentiate between benthic and pelagic food webs. Unlike carbon and sulfur, nitrogen does fractionate with each change in trophic level, making it a useful indicator of trophic position. The combination of these three stable isotope ratios allows Emily to identify each sampled organism’s role in the food web and determine if its functional role overlaps with other organisms.

Emily uses this information to look at the ecosystem as a whole to determine what the area’s functional diversity indicates about its resiliency after an environmental disaster. She explained that having more functionally diverse species increases an ecosystem’s resiliency to disasters: “The more functionally diverse an ecosystem, the greater its resiliency and its potential to recover from a disturbance like an oil spill. Think about an ecosystem with only three roles or trophic niches to fill, and you’ve lost one in a disaster. That ecosystem would suffer a lot more from losing one species or niche than a more robust ecosystem with ten roles or trophic niches.”

3820d

Emily uses a hypodermic needle to extract blood from the caudal vein of a blacktip shark. (Provided by Emily Seubert)

Understanding the resiliency and robustness of ecosystems can help inform recovery and restoration plans for future environmental disasters. Researchers and responders can use this information to determine which ecosystems are more vulnerable to environmental disasters and will therefore need more protection and better management. “If a disaster-affected ecosystem exhibited low numbers of apex predators and high numbers of mesopredators, we should manage our fishing pressures on those higher-level organisms,” explained Emily. “In that scenario, we can suspect that something is offsetting the balance, and relieving our fishing efforts on top predators may help bring the system back to equilibrium.”

Her Learning

Emily has found that, while the scientific process seems straightforward, learning how to juggle fieldwork, lab work, classes, presentations, and conferences can be challenging. Her ACER research provided her with valuable experience in planning, executing, and managing research and in clearly communicating her research and findings, helping her grow as a young scientist and professional. “The difference between where I started and where I am now is night and day,” said Emily. “I gain more confidence and knowledge with every obstacle and task I face. I know that I am growing as a scientist every day, surrounded by amazing mentors and a fantastic support team.”

Her Future

Emily plans to complete her master’s degree by the end of 2017 and find a position that allows her to travel and work in various labs around the country or even the world. She believes that working with different organisms, ecosystems, environments, and people can help her better understand our natural world. “As I have done throughout my career, I will continue to keep my eyes and ears open and to never stop learning,” she said.

Emily recommends that students interested in marine science should take chances and venture outside of their comfort zone. Her path took her far from home to an area she never anticipated and researching species she knew little about. However, she says she cannot imagine working with a better ecosystem, study species, or advisor for her master’s research, “I feel extremely lucky and blessed to be doing what I’m doing, and I never would be where I am if I hadn’t taken chances.”

Praise for Emily

Emily’s advisor Dr. Marcus Drymon said it has been a pleasure to work with Emily as she matures into a seasoned researcher. He praised her “palpable enthusiasm” for her research and her cheerful wit, calling her an integral part of his project. “I’m proud of the progress that Emily has made,” he said. “I see enormous potential for Emily’s work to contribute to a broader understanding of ecosystem resiliency.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Emily Seubert and their important contributions. The GoMRI Scholars Program recognizes graduate students whose work focuses on GoMRI-funded projects and builds community for the next generation of ocean science professionals. Visit the ACER website to learn more about their work.

************
The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Smithsonian Features Luminous Critters Living in the Deep, Dark Gulf

3816

A close up profile of an adult anglerfish female from the Linophryne family collected in the northern Gulf of Mexico. © 2016 DEEPEND/ Dante Fenolio

Scientists are finding fascinating discoveries in the largely unknown deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Some fishes, invertebrates, and bacteria have evolved a special adaptation to living in dark conditions using bioluminescence. What’s new is the discovery of specific bacteria species that live symbiotically on anglerfish and emit light.

The Smithsonian recently published an article about these anglerfish and bacteria based on research funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Scientists with the DEEPEND consortium comb through mountains of marine samples and microbial DNA sequence data to help us better understand risks when events like the Deepwater Horizon strike.

Read the article Meet the Tiny Bacteria That Give Anglerfishes Their Spooky Glow to find out how fish who don’t produce their own light pair up with bacterium that do.

************

GoMRI and the Smithsonian have a partnership to enhance oil spill science content on the Ocean Portal website.

This research was made possible in part by a grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Deep-Pelagic Nekton Dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico (DEEPEND) consortium. The GoMRI is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies.  An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research.  All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available.  The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP.  For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

GoMRI RFP-V: Reproductive Failure in Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Recovery of Cetaceans (Smith)

3790

Researcher Cynthia Smith

Concern about how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may continue to negatively affect wild bottlenose dolphins living in the spill’s footprint remains high. Researchers supporting the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) studied live and stranded dolphins in the heavily affected area of Louisiana’s Barataria Bay and reported that exposed dolphins exhibited increased lung disease, adrenal gland abnormalities, late-term pregnancy losses, and an 80% reproductive failure rate – four times greater than dolphins from unaffected areas. So how are the dolphins doing now?

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative recently awarded Dr. Cynthia Smith a grant to further investigate the dolphins’ reproductive impairment after the oil spill. Many stranded perinatal dolphins (perinates) in this region showed evidence of fetal distress and subsequent death in the womb and exhibited high reproductive failure rate. This project seeks to better understand how oil spill exposure impaired the reproductive health of this population through more precise physiologic measures and to assess how long these negative reproductive effects could last.

Click for access to GoMRI’s YouTube videos of RFP-V Projects…

************

This project was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) in the RFP-V funding program.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Rita Colwell Honored with International Award for Tropical Medicine Research

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) congratulates Dr. Rita Colwell for receiving the 2015 Mahathir Science Award.

3811

Dr. Rita Colwell

The international award, given annually by the Mahathir Science Award Foundation and the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, recognizes scientists who have pioneered tropical research breakthroughs. Colwell was honored for groundbreaking research, innovation, and scientific leadership in the ecology of infectious diseases and advanced technologies to halt their spread.

Colwell, a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Chair of the GoMRI Research Board, is one of the world’s leading scientists studying cholera. The first woman to win the award, Colwell discovered that cholera bacteria can enter a dormant stage that, under proper conditions, revert to an infectious state.

Reflecting on this award, Dr. Colwell said that “It is an honor to be recognized for the work done over the past forty years on cholera. I am grateful to my many splendid students, visiting scientist colleagues, and collaborators in this very rewarding research. To alleviate suffering and curb the spread of disease are our goals and we are pleased to have made progress on both.”

A few highlights of Colwell’s tropical medicine research: She wrote the first computer program to identify marine bacteria, and her use of computational tools to study microorganisms helped establish the field of Bioinformatics. She was one of the first scientists to recognize the impact of climate change on the waterborne microbial world, and she pioneered the use of remote sensing for disease prediction, including using satellite imaging, to track and predict outbreaks of cholera.

Other notable awards Colwell has received include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council for Science and the Environment; the National Medal of Science; the Stockholm Water Prize; and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star from the Emperor of Japan. Colwell is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Swedish Royal Academy of Science, Irish Royal Academy of Science, and the Bangladesh and Indian Academies of Science.

Dr. Colwell is a nationally-respected scientist and educator, having held  positions as the Director of the National Science Foundation, National Science Board member, President of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, and Professor of Microbiology and Biotechnology at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. She has authored or co-authored 17 books, more than 800 scientific publications, and has been awarded 61 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education.

The GoMRI community joins in the accolades of Dr. Colwell’s exceptional contributions to science and direction as Chair of the GoMRI Research Board.
************

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Identifying Toxic Components in Fresh and Weathered Crude Oil

3806a

Ph.D. student Rebecca Lichtler prepares hydrocarbon solutions for toxicity studies in cultured cells. (Photo by Charles Miller)

Hydrocarbons associated with oil spills can have harmful effects on humans and organisms, yet little is known about the specific compounds that contribute to toxicity. The ability to identify and quantify oil’s key toxic compounds will help improve predictions of future spills’ effects on human health and marine ecosystems.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative recently awarded Dr. Charles Miller a grant to identify toxic compounds within fresh and weathered Deepwater Horizon crude oil. Miller’s team hypothesizes that a relatively small group of chemicals accounts for most of oil’s toxicity and hopes to identify these oil compounds that are crucial to understanding toxicity.

Oils from different sites and sources vary in composition and toxicity, and oil components change radically with time and weathering. There are sixteen polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) compounds that the Environmental Protection Agency has identified as reference compounds for use in environmental studies. Researchers will explore oil compounds not included in the sixteen reference PAHs to expand our knowledge about the toxicity of these less-studied oil compounds.

3806b

Ph.D. student Ahmad Alqassim prepares a chemical solution for cellar analysis. (Photo by Charles Miller)

“There are oil compounds that are more prevalent and complex than the sixteen reference compounds, but they have been studied either very little or not at all,” said Miller. “There are thousands of chemicals in oil that we have no toxicity data for at all – we don’t know what they do.”

Miller’s team will conduct genetic assays to identify oil compounds that activate the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), a protein in all human cells that can signal the expression of genes related to serious adverse health effects, including cancer. They will separate crude oil samples into fractions that will each be combined with human stem cells to identify those that activate the AhR. The researchers will then refractionate the identified fractions into smaller groups of chemicals and run them through the assay again. They will repeat this process to isolate individual compounds responsible for oil toxicity.

Miller hopes this research will provide important guidance into which oil compounds should be assessed in order to gauge a spill’s toxicity. “Some spills are more toxic than others, and we don’t always know why that is,” he said. “If we knew which chemicals to watch for, it could help estimate how toxic a spill may be.” Tracking these toxic compounds during future spills will help researchers and responders better understand the severity and persistence of the potential risks associated with oil contamination.

This project’s researchers are Charles Miller, Jeffery Wickliffe, and Mark Wilson of the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and Edward Overton of the Louisiana State University Department of Environmental Sciences. Their project is Toxicological Properties of Specific Aromatic Hydrocarbons Isolated from Fresh and Aged Crude Oil from the Deepwater Horizon Spill.

************
The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Watch: DROPPS Researcher Delivers Televised Talk on Oil Degradation

3783In April 20, 2010, the Gulf of Mexico had its greatest mishap in record time with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, wherein an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil (peaking at more 60,000 barrels) per day were released into the Gulf for 87 days, for a total of 3.19 million barrels for the entire duration. The ecological impacts of this spill have become one of the subjects of extensive research.

Dr. Hernando Bacosa is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. His lecture at Del Mar College, “Biodegradation and Photooxidation of Spilled Oil in Northern Gulf of Mexico,” presented some recent findings about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s ecological impacts and was televised on Channel 19 Spectrum Cable and Grande Cable in Corpus Christi.

Visit the DROPPS website.

ACER Blog Explores “Primary Production”

3779

A four level trophic pyramid sitting on a layer of soil and its community of decomposers. Source: By Thompsma (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When scientists consider ecosystems, you will more often hear the term primary production. What is the link between these terms? Are they the same thing? Why do scientists measure it?

Photosynthesis is the process by which light energy is used to power chemical reactions that convert carbon dioxide (CO2) to carbohydrates. Here, light energy is used to split a water molecule into 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen. The energy from that action is then used to create a carbohydrate, in this case, the sugar glucose from carbon dioxide (what you breathe out when you exhale). Scientists also refer to this process as carbon fixation as an inorganic form of carbon has been converted to (fixed into) an organic molecule that contains carbon.

Photosynthesis is the process forming the base of the food chain. Photosynthetic organisms are the only organisms capable of taking an inorganic form of carbon and, using an energy source, making food. Other organisms are dependent on this ‘manufactured’ food, so the amount of photosynthesis determines the amount of food that is available to all other organisms in the food chain or web. The amount of food made over time is called primary production. Put another way, primary production is the amount of carbon fixed over a period of time measured for a specific area. It is primary as it is the base of the food chain and it is production as organic matter is produced from inorganic matter.

Primary production is typically reported as grams of carbon per some unit of time, such as g carbon per day per square meter. If we talk about the organisms that eat, that is consume, this primary production, we can use the term secondary production. This is the amount of new flesh (biomass in scientific lingo) created, either by organisms growing larger or heavier, or from making new organisms by reproducing. The higher the consumer is in the food chain, the higher the level of production (for example: tertiary (3rd), 4th or 5th levels).

Read the full post here.

For more educational entries from the ACER blog, head to the ACER Happenings page.

GoMRI RFP-V: Genomic Responses to Deepwater Horizon and high-throughput biological assays (Thomas)

3775

Researcher W. Kelley Thomas

The Genomic Responses to the Deepwater Horizon event and development of high-throughput biological assays for oil spills project is lead by W. Kelley Thomas, University of New Hampshire.

Within the GoM, the benthic environment is biologically hyper-diverse, performing critical ecosystem functions that have consequences for the ecology of the entire GoM region. Benthic communities are strongly impacted by oil spills, which render them a valuable tool for assaying and monitoring the impacts of contamination. However, the characterization of these communities has been impractical for large- scale deployment due to the tedious and time-consuming nature of the taxonomy required to accurately describe these communities. This project leverages recent and dramatic advances in DNA sequencing technology that have transformed the process of rapid, accurate, and cheap assays of community biodiversity. To achieve these goals, the project team brings together the interdisciplinary expertise in marine biology, taxonomy, genomics and bioinformatics necessary for the development of a meaningful and robust technology and has formulated three objectives.

Objective 1: Use targeted sequencing of individual benthic eukaryotes to generate a representative sample of diverse genomes from which to select an expanded set of nuclear and mitochondrial loci for targeted mining of shotgun metagenomic data.

Objective 2: Assess eukaryotic community structure across space and time via high-throughput sequencing of environmental metagenomes using a new and expanded array of nuclear and mitochondrial marker genes.

Objective 3: Establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and reproducible bioinformatic workflows for environmental monitoring of oil spills. This will include establishing a database for integration of taxonomic and molecular datasets, and dissemination of tools and educational resources.

Click for access to GoMRI’s YouTube videos of RFP-V Projects…

************

This project was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) in the RFP-V funding program.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

 

Rapid Response Study Documents Marine Microbial Response to Hercules Gas Blowout

3755a

The 2013 Hercules 265 blowout released large quantities of methane into the Gulf of Mexico for two days until the well self-sealed. (Photo by Dr. Bonny Schumaker president and founder of On Wings of Care onwingsofcare.org)

Research consortia involved in the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) self-organized a rapid response to characterize the waters around the Hercules 265 rig. They found evidence of an immediate response from the surrounding environment’s microbial community to elevated methane concentrations. Using radium isotope measurements, researchers created a timeline of bottom water exposure to the rig’s output. They published their findings in Deep-Sea Research II: Hercules 265 rapid response: Immediate ecosystem impacts of a natural gas blowout incident.

The Hercules 265 blowout occurred on July 23, 2013, releasing large quantities of methane into the northern Gulf of Mexico for two days. Members of five research consortia (ECOGIG, GISR, CWC, C-IMAGE, and CARTHE) went to the gas blowout site to study the impacts on the marine environment and better understand the nature and timescale of the microbial community responses. Researchers deployed surface drifters and collected water and nutrient samples just a few days after the initial blowout and returned approximately one month later to assess the area’s recovery.

3755b

(L-R) Dr. Terry Wade (Texas A&M University, GISR) and researchers Matthew Rich (Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, CWC), Sarah Weber (Georgia Tech, ECOGIG), and Joye Battles (University of Georgia, ECOGIG) were among the team who conducted field work during the second leg of the Hercules 265 rapid response cruise. (Photo by Max Wike)

The team’s estimates of methane presence suggested that the gas flow was greatly reduced or halted when the well self-sealed. They also observed clear biogeochemical evidence of a marine microbial ecosystem response, including a significant drawdown of dissolved oxygen to hypoxic conditions, the incorporation of methane-derived carbon into the food web, and measurable methane assimilation and nitrogen fixation rates. Measurements taken one month after the initial sampling showed that the ecosystem had returned to background conditions.

The researchers emphasized the importance of focused rapid response efforts and repeated sampling to further understanding of microbial responses to sudden environmental distress from oil and gas operations. Study author Sarah C. Weber commented, “Thanks to the coordinated efforts of researchers at sea and on land and colleagues from various consortia, we were able to begin sampling within just days of the blowout and collected unique datasets that told a coherent story about the blowout’s impact on the water column. This research is significant because it shows that a natural gas blowout can have a rapid and measureable impact on the local microbial community, as well as on the local oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen cycles.”

The study’s authors are Sarah C. Weber, Leigha Peterson, Jessica J. Battles, Brian J. Roberts, Richard N. Peterson, David J. Hollander, Jeffrey P. Chanton, Samantha B. Joye, and Joseph P. Montoya.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at R1.x132.134:0127; R1.x132.134:0066; R1.x134.073:0012; R1.x132.134:0032; R1.x132.134:0073; R1.x132.134:0074; and R1.x139.145:0012.

See related stories for more information:

************
This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) consortium, the Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE), the Coastal Waters Consortium (CWC), the Gulf of Mexico Integrated Spill Response Consortium (GISR), and the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE). Other funding sources included the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NASA) Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research Program (NGOMEX09).

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Grad Student Pasparakis Looks to Fish Embryos for Long-Term Oil Spill Answers

3739a

Christina analyzes different life stages of mahi-mahi embryos under a stereomicroscope. (Photo by Dan DiNicola)

Studies that investigate the effects of oil exposure on developing fish are typically conducted at otherwise non-stressful ambient conditions, which may result in conservative impact estimates. Christina Pasparakis is studying the combined effects of oil exposure and other environmental stressors to create a more comprehensive assessment of Deepwater Horizon impacts.

Christina is a marine science Ph.D. student at the University of Miami and a GoMRI Scholar with the RECOVER consortium.

Her Path

Christina grew up on Key Biscayne, a south Florida island, where she developed a deep appreciation for the ocean and marine life. She was five years old when Hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida, including Key Biscayne’s once-flourishing Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. A few years later, however, salt marshes and mangrove ecosystems brimming with new forms of marine life had replaced the invasive Australian Pines that once dominated the park. “Watching the island regenerate after such a profound natural disaster, I learned a valuable lesson: nature is, in fact, remarkably resilient,” she explained. “It solidified my interest in studying nature and its incredible ability to adapt to changing conditions.”

3739b

Christina makes a high-energy water-accommodated fraction (HEWAF) from surface oil. These WAF dilutions will be used in exposure experiments with embryonic mahi-mahi. (Photo by Dan DiNicola)

As Christina completed her biology master’s degree at San Francisco State University in 2013 and entered the University of Miami’s Ph.D. program in marine science, news about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill deeply saddened her. She became increasingly concerned as the spill’s ecological severity grew over time. When her advisor Dr. Martin Grosell started a multi-year oil spill research project in 2015, which continued his Natural Resources Damage Assessment oil-impact studies, Christina began researching oil’s effects on the developing Gulf fish whose spawning period temporally and geographically overlapped with the Deepwater Horizon event.

 

 

3739c

Christina hydrates a microplate used for high-throughput oxygen consumption data in small organisms, such as embryos and larvae. (Photo by Dan DiNicola)

Her Work 

Recent studies suggest that oil toxicity may cause cardiovascular and morphological abnormalities in the embryonic and larval stages of developing fish. These sublethal effects of oil exposure may have subtle, yet ecologically significant, long-term consequences on entire fish populations. Christina is currently focused on understanding factors that affect developing embryos’ buoyancy, a critical aspect of their survival that helps promote dispersal and positioning of hatched larvae in the food-laden upper water column.

 

3739d

Stereomicroscope images of early life stage mahi-mahi at different developmental periods. The embryos (top) are 2 days post-fertilization and a few hours away from hatch, while the larvae (bottom left and right) are 2-3 days post-hatch. (Image by Christina Pasparakis)

Christina conducts exposure experiments on mahi-mahi at early developmental life stages using varying concentrations and types of oil (such as surface oil or source oil) and different environmental stressors, such as UV radiation, temperature, and salinity. She then quantifies changes in embryonic buoyancy over time, measures their sinking rate and nitrogenous waste excretion, and uses optical and imaging systems to assess oxygen consumption, cardiac function, and overall development. “All of these variables have significant implications for fish survival and growth to later life-stages,” explained Christina. “For example, embryos sinking down the water column earlier in development could place them in unfavorable conditions for hatching and post-hatch feeding and may increase predation risk.”

So far, Christina’s research has found that larvae who were exposed to oil as embryos displayed increased oxygen consumption rates, indicating elevated metabolic rates and the potential for corresponding increases in energy depletion. She observed depletions in embryonic mahi-mahi yolk sacs, the sole energy substrates for most developing fish embryos, which confirmed the projected energy depletion. Her results are the first to demonstrate increased energy demand and energy depletion in oil-exposed fish embryos and larvae.

3739e

Christina at the University of Miami-sponsored Ocean Kid’s Day, a program that invites children from low-performing, high-needs elementary schools to participate in a day of marine science adventures. Here, she shows a young girl how early life stages of live mahi-mahi look under a microscope. (Photo by Elena Papademetriou)

Her Learning

Christina’s Ph.D. research has taught her the importance of creating a strong foundation of knowledge and expertise before jumping into an experiment. Troubleshooting the oxygen-sensing system she used to measure oxygen consumption was a long, tedious, and often frustrating process that did not produce any useable results. Reflecting on that process today, however, she has a much different perspective. “Those months of troubleshooting and method development were arguably some of the most valuable and character building experiences of my Ph.D.,” she explained. “It helped me test my boundaries and taught me that creativity and improvisation are critical skills in science.”

Christina believes in the importance of investing in future scientists. She initially found training and supervising undergraduate volunteers in the Grosell lab especially challenging and asked for a different lab duty. However, Grosell insisted that a person can only excel by improving on their weaknesses and assigned her even more undergraduates – it was ultimately one of the most fulfilling aspects of her Ph.D. “I learned how to be simultaneously critical and motivating and became a much more qualified mentor and teacher,” she said. “Watching my current undergraduate volunteer grow as a scientist and conduct experiments alone has been very rewarding and has solidified my passion to teach in the future.”

Participation in outreach activities with local students through the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science has been an important part of Christina’s growth. She volunteered with Ocean Kids, a University of Miami-sponsored program that introduces at-risk grade school students to science. She also helped with Women in Science Day to inspire young girls to pursue scientific careers. “My volunteer activities provided an effective way to motivate younger generations to care about the sustainability and preservation of our ocean and fisheries,” said Christina. “I believe spreading knowledge about the destructive consequences of environmental catastrophes such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will help prevent these disasters from happening in the future and better prepare us for when they do occur.”

Her Future

Christina wants a career that will allow her to study, learn, and teach about oceans and their ability to adapt and recover during periods of rapid environmental change. She hopes to continue spreading awareness about the current state of marine ecosystems and how global climate change, increased pollution, and environmental disasters risk oceans’ sustainability and diverse marine life. “Motivation requires optimism,” she concluded. “Despite recent studies displaying dire projections for the future, we must find a way to focus on the positive and believe in the resilience of nature.”

Praise for Christina
Dr. Grosell noted that, in addition to pursuing her own research, Christina plays a central role in numerous collaborative projects with visiting scientists and University of Miami colleagues. “The ability to develop equipment and techniques for sophisticated measurements is a hallmark of an outstanding Ph.D. student. In Christina, these skills are combined with strong writing skills, and she consistently connects well with broad audiences,” said Grosell. “I view Christina as an exceptionally strong young scientist with immense potential.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Christina Pasparakis and their important contributions. The GoMRI Scholars Program recognizes graduate students whose work focuses on GoMRI-funded projects and builds community for the next generation of ocean science professionals. Visit the RECOVER website to learn more about their work.

************
The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Sea Grant Releases Brochure on Oil Spill and Fish Lesions

3735The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative is pleased to announce a new informational brochure about the connection of Deepwater Horizon and fish lesions reported in the winter following the spill. The Sea Grant Oil Spill Outreach Team reviewed published science and worked with experts to develop this brochure for a broad range of audiences, particularly those who live and work across the Gulf Coast.

The brochure Skin Lesions in Fish: Was There a Connection to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill? explains what fish skin lesions are, what factors might cause lesions, and what fish lesion data can tell us about the oil spill.

The Sea Grant Oil Spill Outreach Team offers public seminars across the Gulf Coast. Click here to view upcoming science seminars and read about recently-held events. To receive email updates about seminars, publications, and the outreach team, click here.

************
GoMRI and the Sea Grant programs of the Gulf of Mexico (Florida, Mississippi-Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas) have partnered to create an oil spill science outreach program.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Study Advances Food Web Matrix for Improved Atlantis Ecosystem Model

3731

Researchers dissect a fish gut to analyze its diet and learn about predator-prey linkages. Photo provided by Cameron Ainsworth.

Researchers analyzed diet information for 474 unique fish species to quantify likely contributions of prey to predators’ diets for an improved marine food web matrix model. They identified previously missing predator-prey linkages, recategorized predators and prey into functional groups based on ecological factors, and quantified error ranges to reflect diet variability and data quality. The revised matrix improved Atlantis ecosystem model hindcasts for the entire Gulf of Mexico and predicted population trends more accurately. They published their methods in Fisheries Research: Progression of a Gulf of Mexico food web supporting Atlantis ecosystem model development.

Marine management strategies have shifted focus from analyzing individual components to entire ecosystems for improved future marine ecosystem sustainability. Ecosystem models often consider the diets of hundreds to thousands of species, making it necessary to group species together by niche and dietary habitats. This study contributes improvements to the Atlantis Marine Ecosystem Model – a three dimension biogeochemical model representing ocean physics, nutrient cycling, and high trophic level dynamics and fisheries – that serves as a strategic tool to assess Gulf of Mexico ecosystem dynamics.

The research team performed hierarchical cluster analysis to determine functional groups that have similar prey requirements, then produced a food web diagram representing the interactions between predators and prey. The researchers compared this study’s diet matrix with ten Gulf of Mexico food webs and determined where variation in food web structure exists. A hindcast from 1980 to 2010 using Atlantis showed an improved fit to observational data and reduced error in biomass projections using the revised diet information.

The team found that the revised matrix more closely resembled deepwater food webs than nearshore food webs, suggesting greater variability in predator composition and prey resources in nearshore areas. The missing prey linkages identified in this study may help inform decisions about where targeted sampling efforts should be applied to fill gaps in the current literature and create a greater distinction between inshore/nearshore and reef fish. The researchers noted that integrating additional diet information from other nearshore areas of the Gulf of Mexico would improve the representation of estuarine-dependent interactions and area-specific species assemblages.

This study’s data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at DOI: R4.x267.182:0003.

The study’s authors are Joseph H. Tarnecki, Amy A. Wallace, James D. Simons, and Cameron H. Ainsworth.

***********
This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems II (C-IMAGE II). Other funding sources included the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Southeast Regional Office Marine Fisheries Initiative (NA13NMF4330171), the Marine Resource Assessment Program at the University of South Florida (95-NA10OAR4320143), and the National Sea Grant College Program (NA10-OAR4170079).

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Study Examines Gulf Killifish Rapid Adaptive Resistance to Contaminants

3726a

Benjamin Dubansky hauls traps to collect Gulf killifish. Photo by Anton Falcone.

Scientists conducted exposure experiments on Gulf killifish populations with known adaptions to common environmental contaminates to determine how rapid adaptation affects future fish health. The researchers found that larvae from killifish that adapted to dioxin-like compounds exhibited higher resistance to oxidative stress and carbamates than did killifish larvae from areas with little-to-no known toxicant exposure. These findings suggest that adaptive toxicant resistance may involve multiple mechanistic pathways.  The team published their findings in Aquatic Toxicology: Cross-resistance in Gulf Killifish (Fundulus grandis) populations resistant to dioxin-like compounds.

Previous research identified that killifish populations in the Houston Ship Channel, which has a long history of industrial pollution, rapidly adapted to resist developmental cardiac deformities caused by a complex mixture of toxicants. The expectation was that the toxin-resistant adaptation passed on to the next generation but came with physiological trade-offs such as increased sensitivity to other environmental stressors, such as hypoxia. However, no such tradeoff could be established.

3726b

Contaminated site along the Houston Ship Channel where elevated levels of toxicants are coincident with resistant populations of Gulf killifish. Here, traps are set in a small tidal cut amid trash and debris to collect resistant fish for study. Photo by Benjamin Dubansky.

Author Benjamin Dubansky noted the significance of the study’s findings, “It is astounding to see not only a fish population that appears to be unbothered by PAHs [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] and other contaminants that would otherwise be lethal, but also that this trait is transmitted from one generation to the next.” He continued, “However, we did observe some interesting differences between populations, which are now driving the research in new directions to help better understand the long-term effects of toxicant exposure on fish populations.”

Author Warren Burggren emphasized the study’s contributions to understanding oil spill impacts and recovery, “In a research area where there are such frequent findings of long-term environmental disruption and damage, it’s encouraging to see that some key organisms can develop resistance to human-induced environmental degradation. This encourages us to think that some effects can be mitigated relatively quickly through the natural characteristics of the organisms.”

The study’s authors are Elias M. Oziolor, Benjamin Dubansky, Warren W. Burggren, and Cole W. Matson.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi: 10.7266/N7513W6W; doi: 10.7266/N78S4MWF.

************
This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Relationship of Effects of Cardiac Outcomes in Fish for Validation of Ecological Risk (RECOVER) consortium. Other funding sources included the Baylor University’s C. Gus Glasscock, Jr. Endowed Fund for Excellence in Environmental Sciences and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Grad Student Fiore Investigates Oil Spill Impacts on Gulf Economy and Fisheries Resiliency

3719a

Jacqueline Fiore is an economic analysis and policy Ph.D. student at Tulane University. (Provided by Jacqueline Fiore)

Natural and manmade disasters often involve long-term effects, but the majority of follow-up research tends to focus on the biophysical impacts rather than the social. Jacqueline Fiore, a Louisiana resident, understands how disasters such as hurricanes and oil spills can impact local industries, citizens, and ecosystems.

Jacqueline, a Ph.D. student in Tulane University’s Economic Analysis and Policy program and a GoMRI Scholar with the Consortium for Resilient Gulf Communities (CRGC), uses applied economics to study the Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s socioeconomic impacts on Gulf fisheries, assess their ability to recover, and help inform future oil spill response.

Her Path

Jacqueline’s journey into oil spill research began on the other side of the globe after she completed a bachelor’s degree in communications and two master’s degrees in epidemiology and economics. She worked for Michigan State University conducting epidemiological studies on malaria in Malawi, Africa with the National Institutes of Health Malawi International Center for Excellence in Malaria Research program. While she enjoyed this research, Jacqueline felt that she was still searching for her “niche” and realized that she wanted to learn econometric methods for public health research.

Jacqueline entered Tulane University’s Ph.D. program in economic analysis and policy. Her advisor Dr. K. Brent Venable introduced her to the CRGC studies on Gulf communities’ resilience to large-scale environmental disasters such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Jacqueline joined the project’s economics sub-team with her other two advisors RAND Corporation economists Drs. Craig Bond and Shanthi Nataraj and uses economic analysis to study the oil spill’s impact on the fishing industry.

Her Work

Jacqueline explained that the concept of resilience refers to human communities’ ability to respond, reorganize, and recover during and following a damaging event. She continued, “The dynamics of certain indicators, such as fisheries landings and revenues, can provide information about the abilities of fisheries to withstand and recover from oil spill events.”

3719b

Jacqueline presents her preliminary findings at the CRGC All-Hands Meeting in Mobile, Alabama, in June 2016. (Photo by Elizabeth Thornton of RAND Corporation)

Jacqueline contacted approximately 70 fisheries and tourism representatives for insight into the best data sources for her research and identified National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) commercial fishing data and state-maintained trip ticket datasets as the most comprehensive sources for pre- and post-spill data. She then worked with the CRGC economics sub-team to identify the best model specifications for analysis. She plans to combine these specifications with public- and restricted-access data to assess the spill’s effects on fisheries landings for select Gulf fish species.

Jacqueline’s research will quantify impacts to fisheries landings in pounds and revenues over time, accounting for variables such as number of fishing trips, type of gear used, and total area fished. She will complement anecdotal accounts and time-series data with an econometric assessment to place the spill’s economic impacts in context with the impacts of the 2005 hurricane season. Ultimately, Jacqueline hopes that her findings will help the fisheries industry and associated communities prepare for the way various Gulf fish species and fishers may respond to future disasters.

Her Learning

Jacqueline discovered that the research process can be challenging, particularly when working with human-related data. She recalls learning about and adhering to data confidentiality rules when using government datasets, adjusting her economic models to match each data source’s availability and variables, and even reframing how she communicated her findings to various audiences. For example, she adapted presentations of her preliminary results at CRGC All-Hands Meetings to better suit an audience without an economics background. Rather than focusing on her work’s detailed methods and techniques, which the audience would not be familiar with, she focused on graphs that illustrated trends in her findings.

3719c

Dominik’s Seafood Inc. – a shrimp processing plant in Bayou La Batre, Alabama – is one of the many local Gulf-area businesses that could benefit from Jacqueline’s research with the economics sub-team. (Photo by Jacqueline Fiore)

Jacqueline also experienced how her research can impact and be impacted by a wide range of people. CRGC All Hands Meetings are attended by the consortium’s technical and stake holder advisory committees, principal investigators, research staff, and graduate students, allowing Jacqueline to gain valuable feedback about her findings from a diverse audience. Fellow researchers offered insights into why some fish species may have been more affected after the spill than others and theorized how fisheries closures might cause some fish species to appear more resilient than they may actually be. She also met with Deepwater Horizon-impacted community members and observed seafood processing plants on a field trip to Bayou La Batre, Alabama. The plant’s employees may use her results to identify which fish species may be the most affected and to estimate financial impacts should another disaster occur.

Her Future

Jacqueline plans to complete her Ph.D. in spring 2018 and hopes to pursue a research program or program management position where she can use her training and expertise in economics and epidemiology. She is particularly interested in industry- or government-initiated projects that are implemented in an academic or private sector, because she “enjoys multidisciplinary collaboration, quick turnaround, and the ability to measure her findings’ impact on the target audience.”

She has found that a person’s career path can evolve based on interactions with others, job opportunities, and academic training and advises that students take time for self-reflection on their life experiences. “Try to learn something from each opportunity and challenge you encounter,” she said. “Your initial goals may look much different from the final outcome.”

Praise for Jacqueline

Craig Bond and Shanthi Nataraj praised Jacqueline’s enthusiasm and contributions to their work. “She not only does what would be expected of a research assistant – conducting literature reviews and data analyses – she also goes above and beyond and contributes to the intellectual design of the effort. Perhaps as importantly, she always does so with a smile,” said Bond. They explained that Jacqueline is considered a full partner on the research, “She has become a valuable colleague over the past two years, and we look forward to our continued collaboration.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Jacqueline Fiore and their important contributions. The GoMRI Scholars Program recognizes graduate students whose work focuses on GoMRI-funded projects and builds community for the next generation of ocean science professionals. Visit the CRGC website to learn more about their work.

************
The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Study Identifies Ocean Processes That Drive Surface Material Clustering

3714

The spatial distribution of Lagrangian divergence energy in the Gulf of Mexico is represented in this 3 km model simulation for the period of July 20, 2012 to August 30, 2012. See Figure 8 in the publication for more detailed comparisons that show local peaks. Image provided by Gregg Jacobs.

Scientists analyzed Gulf of Mexico model simulations to understand the flow processes that drive clustering of buoyant material such as Sargassum, oil from seeps and spills, and debris on the ocean surface. They observed similar clustering patterns from the deep ocean and continental shelf, though the processes driving clustering differed between areas. Smaller-scale ocean features prompted stronger surface divergence and were the dominate driver of initial material clustering. As the effect of small-scale features on clustering diminished over time, larger-scale processes drove continued clustering. Understanding how different ocean processes determine the way materials accumulate on the surface can improve the effectiveness of oil spill cleanup efforts. The researchers published their findings in Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans: Ocean processes underlying surface clustering.

Lagrangian divergence is the major force that contributes to clustering of material at the ocean surface. This study examined the effects of various surface ocean processes on Lagrangian divergence using data from the Grand Lagrangian Deployment or GLAD (deep ocean surface water) and the Surfzone Coastal Oil Pathways Experiment or SCOPE (continental shelf surface water). The team focused on surface clustering influenced by submesoscale to mesoscale ocean features (500 m to 500 km horizontal scales).  These small- and large-scale processes control cluster formation, deformation, and dispersal. The scientists conducted a series of numerical ocean model simulations with increasing resolutions – each of which captured a different spectrum of phenomena – to systematically investigate ocean processes.

Study author Denny Kirwan stated, “This work along with the companion paper of Huntley et al. (2015) have begun to unravel a perplexing mystery: in an ocean that is known to disperse material over great distances, how is it that stuff at the surface tends to cluster? It is only in the last few years that computing technology along with high-resolution data acquired by CARTHE with GoMRI support has it been possible to coalesce the fundamental technologies and begin to address this problem.”

Study author Gregg Jacobs noted the progress in oil spill response that this research contributed to, “Addressing hazardous spills has previously taken into account ocean forecasts that predict where currents will transport ocean material. Now, we have an initial understanding of clustering and have simulated how to address a hazardous spill taking into account the additional clustering forecasts, which shows that cleanup efficiency can be increased by a factor of 20 over a few days.”

Technologies of ocean forecast systems and Lagrangian dynamical understanding from different institutes working together have resulted in synergistic capabilities that enable scientists to make advancements for future applications.  This study’s team has made fundamental science advances, resulting in their submission of a patent application based on the new algorithms and insights. Jacobs noted, “There remain many difficult problems, and the CARTHE consortium continues to resolve many intertwined problems that affect our natural resources.”

Data from model experiments is available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative under DOI numbers: 10.7266/N7FQ9TJ6, 10.7266/N76Q1V5G, and 10.7266/N72Z13F4, or by contacting author Gregg Jacobs.

The study’s researchers are Gregg A. Jacobs, Helga S. Huntley, A. D. Kirwan, Jr., Bruce L. Lipphardt Jr., Timothy Campbell, Travis Smith, Kacey Edwards, and Brent Bartels.

************
This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment II (CARTHE II).

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

OneGulf Voyage Gathers Unprecedented Marine Samples for Two Oil Spills

3699a

The cruise map of the One Gulf Expedition shows the 69 long-line stations (red circles) completed in 40 days. Researchers caught over 2,400 fish to study the impacts of Gulf oil spills. (Credit: C-IMAGE Consortium)

An international science team recently completed a 4,000-mile expedition to learn more about the long-term fate of two of the world’s largest subsea oil spills, the 1979 Ixtoc-I and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon. The 40-day Gulf of Mexico voyage continued their 2015 field campaign, contributing to a multi-year Gulf-wide analysis of these oil spills and the marine environment’s response and recovery.

Aboard the R/V Weatherbird-II, researchers with the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems II (C-IMAGE II) collected thousands of bottom-dwelling fish, sediment, water, and plankton samples from the Yucatan Peninsula and Bay of Campeche to the Texas shelf. A land-based team combed Mexico’s Campeche, Tabasco, and Veracruz shorelines for evidence of residual oil.

3699b

Erika Fredrik (USF) collects deep-sea sediment samples used for microbial studies with GoMRI partners. (Credit: C-IMAGE Consortium)

“It’s unprecedented to undertake this type of research,” said University of South Florida (USF) Professor and C-IMAGE Director Steven Murawski. “Planning logistics, acquiring permits, and organizing resources needed for 40 days at sea in international waters is very difficult; and we appreciate the many agencies and groups that helped make this expedition possible.”

The samples collected during the 2015-2016 expeditions contributed to the first set of Gulf-wide baseline data, enabling scientists to characterize the Gulf’s present condition. Analyses of biota and sediment will help identify if there are relatively pristine (oil-free) areas of the Gulf and inform impact assessments of future spills.

3699c

Ph.D. student Usman Muhammed (ETH-Zürich) transfers a core of Gulf sediments into storage for future chemical analysis. (Credit: Benjamin Prueitt, C-IMAGE)

A significant challenge in assessing Deepwater Horizon impacts is not knowing contamination levels before the spill.  One way that the OneGulf scientists are addressing the lack of pre-2010 spill data is to study areas impacted by Ixtoc-I and forecast what Deepwater Horizon-impacted sites may experience in 30 years. “We hope to be able to fully characterize oil residue still remaining along the Mexican coasts,” said USF Marine Geochemist and team lead Patrick Schwing. “The samples we collected will help us identify the spatial extent, thickness, and any lasting impacts and study the products of this oil’s natural weathering.”

 

 

3699d

Dan Razionale, an undergraduate student at Eckerd College, collects pore water from a sediment core to test for levels of nutrients and trace metals. (Credit: Benjamin Prueitt, C-IMAGE)

The OneGulf team, however, did not start from zero to investigate the Ixtoc-I spill. Endowed Chair of Biodiversity and Conservation Science and Professor Emeritus John Wes Tunnell at the Harte Research Institute was studying corals off the Texas coast when the Ixtoc-I spill began. He documented where oil washed ashore and, even though funds ran out, continued taking students back to oil-impacted areas for years afterward. He guided the C-IMAGE researchers to the same locations that he had been monitoring. Tunnell and researchers with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) Adolfo Gracia and Elva Escobar-Briones played vital roles in designing studies to examine Ixtoc-I impacts.

The Ixtoc-I and Deepwater Horizon spills share many similarities and present a unique opportunity for comparative analysis. Here are some topics that the team hopes to learn more about:

3699e

Researchers collect fish bile samples for toxicity analysis. Bile indicates how fish are metabolizing remaining oil levels. (Credit: C-IMAGE Consortium)

A Similar Marine Snow Event?

Recent studies (Passow, 2014; Brooks, et al., 2015; Hastings, et al., 2015) reported evidence that marine snow associated with Deepwater Horizon created a mechanism for oiled particles to reach the seafloor, which may serve as long-term storage for contaminants that could potentially reenter the water column (Chanton, et al., 2015). One question scientists have is: how long will sedimented oily particles remain in the environment, potentially affecting bottom-dwelling fish and sediment-dwelling organisms?

Researchers on the OneGulf voyage think they may have uncovered a clue.  They found a layer of oily sediment buried under the seafloor near the Ixtoc-I site. Lab analyses of these sediment core samples will determine a possible source of this oily layer, and if the oil signature is consistent with an Ixtoc-I spill point source, then the answer may be possibly decades.

3699f

Researchers on the Tunnell Trek collect a sediment core adjacent to a mangrove forest impacted by the 1979 Ixtoc I spill. (Credit: C-IMAGE Consortium)

Food Web Impacts?
Ongoing investigations are addressing questions about short- and long-term impacts on the marine food web following the Deepwater Horizon spill. Recent studies (Murawski, et al., 2014; Synder, et al., 2015 and Tarnecki, et al., 2015; Wilson, et al., 2015) suggest that hydrocarbons associated with Deepwater Horizon may have entered the coastal food web; that some demersal fishes in oil-contaminated waters exhibited elevated hydrocarbon concentrations and experienced shifts in diet and trophic level; and that there was a short-term increase in observed fish lesions that declined as hydrocarbon concentrations decreased.

OneGulf researchers will compare tissues, blood, and bile from bottom-dwelling fish caught off the Veracruz coast, the most likely place where Ixtoc-I oil settled, to biological samples collected near the Deepwater Horizon site and unpolluted areas. They will use these data to establish if fish experience elevated hydrocarbon levels or lasting effects of exposure in the entire Gulf or just near Deepwater Horizon and Ixtoc-I sites.

3699g

Isabel Romero and Patrick Schwing chisel a tar patty in Montepio, Mexico. Submerged tar still gives off surface oil sheens in tide pools along the shore. (Credit: Ethan Goddard)

Long-Term Shoreline Contamination?
Some of the most visible evidence of Deepwater Horizon contamination was weathered oil found in beached tar balls and sand patties (Aeppli, et al., 2012), oil buried in sand (Hayworth, et al., 2015; Yin, et al, 2015; Zuijdgeest and Huettell, 2012), and fouled vegetation (Judy, et al., 2014). How long will hydrocarbons from this weathered oil persist in and possibly harm northern Gulf coastal environments?

Another clue for answers may come from the OneGulf voyage. The land-based team found oily tar balls and slabs on beaches and in barren mangrove areas along Campeche, Tabasco, and Veracruz shorelines that they believe may be potentially from Ixtoc-I. Analyses of these recent collections is ongoing, and the team hopes the results will help provide insights about possible long-term coastal contamination and impacts from Deepwater Horizon.

What’s Next?
In one sense the cruise is over, but in another sense it is just beginning. Murawski explained, “The really hard work of cataloging, analyzing, and interpreting the significance of these results has just started.” Dozens of scientists and technicians from Europe, Mexico, Canada, and the United States will spend years refining our understanding of how the Gulf works and how subsea oil spills impact its large and diverse ecosystem.

3699h

A piece of tar and asphalt found on Mexican shores. The tar layered some of the beach sands and still smelled of oil when broken. Future analysis will determine the lasting decadal effects of tar on the shores and in the mangroves. (Credit: Isabel Romero)

Scientists studying other important Gulf of Mexico issues are benefiting from the OneGulf expedition, too. The C-IMAGE team collected surface water samples for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Harmful Algal Bloom group who are studying the diversity and spread of Gulf blooms including Red Tide (K.brevis). Two international Ph.D. students joined the voyage, Usman Muhammed with the Technical Institute of Zürich (ETH-Zürich) who studies carbon cycling and Diana Torres Galindez with the UNAM who studies deep-sea fishes. An official from the Mexican fishery service, INAPESCA, assisted the C-IMAGE efforts and collected offshore shark species samples.

“We have learned a great deal about the Gulf’s health after the Deepwater Horizon spill,” Murawski said. “But we can’t stop here. There’s remarkable scientific potential in the southern Gulf as well.”

More Information:

************
This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems II (C-IMAGE II).

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Study Finds No Obvious Recovery from Oiled Island Shoreline Erosion

3695

Oil on the shoreline of Bastian Bay, 10 September 2010. Photo by R. E.Turner and reproduced with permission.

Louisiana State University scientists quantified Louisiana island erosion pre- and post-Deepwater Horizon to determine the shoreline retreat rate when oiled, the length of time that oiling effects lasted, and whether or not there was recovery. They observed that the average oiled and unoiled island width, length, and erosion rate before the spill were similar, and that the oiled islands’ erosion rate increased about 275% in the first 6 months after the spill. The oiled islands’ average enhanced erosion rate declined over 2.5 years but was about twice that of the unoiled sites after 2.5 years. There was no evidence of reversal in the aggregate. These findings suggest that oil damaged the emergent vegetation’s belowground biomass, and that islands are a sentinel of future losses because they are more sensitive to shoreline stressors than nearby wetlands embedded in a contiguous wetland landscape. They published their findings in Marine Pollution Bulletin: Islands in the oil: Quantifying salt marsh shoreline erosion after the Deepwater Horizon oiling.

Deepwater Horizon oil reached approximately 1055 km of Louisiana’s shoreline, equaling about 65% of the total oiled shorelines in the Gulf of Mexico and 95% of the oiled wetland area. Some islands in Louisiana estuaries were oiled while others were not, offering a natural platform to examine differences in response to oiling. This study’s team used publicly-available aerial photographs taken between 1989 and 2012 to measure the length and width of 46 islands using a distinctive geomorphic feature on each island as a reference point. The team quantified the multi-year compromises to vegetation and scaled these impacts within the context of the background marsh erosion and management permits.

Study author R. Eugene Turner summed up their findings, “Our study suggests that the erosion of islands without oiling have a much faster erosion rate than wetlands embedded in a contiguous landscape, that the increased erosion lasted for several years, and that no ‘natural recovery’ is apparent. The impact on endangered birds is clear – one rookery was abandoned and others have a shorter life span.”

Quantifying the salt marsh system’s immediate responses to oiling over a broad geographical area may help inform our understanding of how multiple stressors influence these systems. The authors anticipate that quantifying oiling effects on vegetative stress and shoreline erosion will be of interest to wetland conservation because of the estimates of coastal island lifetime with and without the oil effects.

The data used in this paper are in the Supporting Online Materials and publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at https://data.gulfresearchinitiative.org (DOI: http://doi.org/10.7266/N72J68WS).

The study’s authors are R. Eugene Turner, Giovanna McClenachan, and Andrew W. Tweel.

************
This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Coastal Waters Consortium II at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Study Introduces Computer Science Students to Problem Solving Using Deepwater Horizon Imagery

3688a

Professor Mingrui Zhang designed a team-based educational project and mentored his students as they developed a user-interface Java program, tested software functions, and implemented decision-making algorithms. Photo by Winona State University provided by Professor Zhang.

University professors developed a team-based educational project using satellite images of Deepwater Horizon surface slicks to introduce first-year computer science students to socially-relevant problem solving. The professors guided students in designing and applying an algorithm to address an open-ended problem of outlining oil contaminated areas. The project’s use of realistic scenarios highlighted the societal contributions of computing careers. The developers published their project in the IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference Proceedings: Real-world problem solving in entry-level programming courses: A case study on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

 

3688b

Computer science student teams try out software functions that distinguish oil from water. Photo by Winona State University provided by Professor Zhang.

The multi-phase project tasked students to design an image processing algorithm and implement computer software for analyzing surface slicks and outlining oiled areas. Phase one introduced students to “breaking news” on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the problem of mapping oil slicks on satellite images. Students developed a user-interface Java program to visualize ocean color satellite images. Phase two moved forward toward a solution by students suggesting and trying out software functions that distinguish oil from water. Phase three had students using data analysis to create scatter plots and develop linear functions to separate oil pixels. Then students implemented a thresholding algorithm with decision-making and repetition statements to outline oil slicks and evaluate results.

3688c

First year computer science students use satellite imagery of Deepwater Horizon to outline oil-contaminated areas. Photo by Winona State University provided by Professor Zhang.

“Computer technologies are widely used in solving real-world problems. However, those problems are seldom used in teaching introductory-level computer science and engineering courses,” explained study author Mingrui Zhang. The developers expect to continue and strengthen this type of project for beginning computer science students in the coming years.

The IEEE Education Society disseminated the project Image Processing Algorithms for Identifying the Gulf Oil Spill to different universities around the world, which computer science general education and digital image processing classes have adapted. Most students who took the class said the project was a stimulating and intellectually challenging activity that increased their interest in problem-solving with computers.

The study’s authors are Mingrui Zhang, Chuanmin Hu, and Guleng Amu.

***********

This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems II (C-IMAGE II). Other funding sources included the IEEE Real World Engineering Projects program and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Researchers Seek New Insights from Decades-Old Spill

C-IMAGE_Ixtoc-I_2279a

Undergraduate students Nichole Clark (left) and Rachael Kalin (right) transfer a sediment core aboard R/V Justo Sierra. (Provided by C-IMAGE)

The Ixtoc I blowout happened in the Bay of Campeche over thirty-five years ago, so why are scientists studying this spill now? Because understanding what happened to Ixtoc I oil may help predict if and how Deepwater Horizon oil will degrade, persist, and impact northern Gulf of Mexico ecosystems over the next few decades.

A Little Background

The 1979 – 1980 Ixtoc I wellhead erupted in 56 meters of water and released 3.5 million barrels of oil into the southern Gulf of Mexico. This spill is an important historical analog for the more recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the northern Gulf. Both spills affected coastal and deep-water biological systems as oil moved through the water column to the sea surface, causing widespread slicks that were treated with dispersants.

C-IMAGE_Ixtoc-I_2279b

Martín Ramírez, Shannon O’Leary, and Kristina Deak collect samples from a fish caught aboard R/V Weatherbird II. (Provided by C-IMAGE)

In 2015, researchers with the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems II (C-IMAGE II) completed two expeditions covering over 11,000 kilometers in the southern Gulf using the R/V Justo Sierra and the R/V Weatherbird II. The team collected sediment cores, water samples, and fish tissues for the first-ever assessment of fish health and sediment contamination across Gulf habitats. This expanded record will provide much-needed baseline information if there are future spills or other environmental events and provides comparative data between Ixtoc I and Deepwater Horizon events.

C-IMAGE_Ixtoc-I_2279c

Chief-scientist David Hollander and researcher Isabel Romero discuss R/V Justo Sierra’s anticipated path through the Gulf of Mexico. (Provided by C-IMAGE)

Challenges…

Both expeditions required customs clearance for sampling equipment and permission to collect scientific samples within Mexico’s federally-enforced marine exclusion zone around the Ixtoc-I site. Over thirty researchers from seven countries needed visas and customs clearances prior to departure. Once underway, the teams experienced several unexpected weather events as they traveled long distances to obtain the samples. Principle Investigator Steve Murawski stated:

The collaboration of the US State Department, the Mexican State Department (SRE), the Mexican State oil company PEMEX, and several other agencies was critical to the success of these expeditions.

C-IMAGE_Ixtoc-I_2279d

Researchers on the R/V Weatherbird II collected “ear stones” or otoliths (pictured) and other biological materials from fish to gather information about their development. (Provided by C-IMAGE)

…and Successes

Despite complications, the teams exceeded their expedition goals. Researchers collected sediment cores from 70 sites (14 – 3,200 meters depth), including several less than 5 kilometers from the Ixtoc I site and along the western Gulf (south of Texas), Campeche, and Yucatan Peninsula coasts. They collected over 700 fish from 25 stations in Mexico’s territorial sea. Scientists collected almost 5,000 blood, bile, and tissue samples (muscle, liver, fin ray, eye, and otoliths) from dominant Gulf of Mexico species like red snapper and golden tilefish, more than 400 ichthyologic photos, and 22 plankton samples. They also collected water samples from all sediment-coring sites and while in transit from Tuxpan, Mexico, to St. Petersburg, Florida – the Gulf’s longest axis.

C-IMAGE_Ixtoc-I_2279e

Researchers on the R/V Justo Sierra and crew look on as Patrick Schwing transfers a sample from the sediment corer. (Provided by C-IMAGE)

Cruise coordinator and R/V Justo Sierra co-chief scientist Patrick Schwing commented:

The real success story is how well the science party and the R/V Justo Sierra crew functioned as a team. I am grateful for all the hard hours that everyone worked. By the second site, the entire science team had the deck and laboratory operations down to…well…a science.

Adolfo Gracia, the R/V Weatherbird II’s science lead for Universidad National Autónoma de Mexico, stated:

We can hardly wait to see the findings and compare them with existing data of sediment oil and biological analyses recorded in the Ixtoc I area.

C-IMAGE_Ixtoc-I_2279f

R/V Weatherbird II crew members cast longlines to catch prominent species of Gulf fish for sampling. (Provided by C-IMAGE)

David Hollander, the R/V Justo Sierra chief-scientist, said:

This research has the potential to reveal new and exciting results that provide a better understanding of long-term chemical and ecologic impacts and allow us to better predict the recovery times of impacted benthic environments in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Preliminary research is already revealing the value of these expeditions. A previous C-IMAGE study discovered evidence that marine snow connected to Deepwater Horizon created a mechanism for oiled particles to reach the seafloor. Initial analyses suggest a similar event may have occurred around the Ixtoc I site and may have affected benthic marine life. Researchers will compare tilefish captured off the Veracruz coastline, the most likely resting place for Ixtoc I oil, to catches near the Deepwater Horizon site and unpolluted areas in the northern and southern Gulf. They can use these data to establish if tilefish experience heavy PAH exposure in the entire Gulf or just near Deepwater Horizon.

C-IMAGE_Ixtoc-I_2279g

David Hollander and Isabel Romero show a sediment core they collected. The core will be cut open and analyzed to determine the composition of Gulf sediment at different points in history. (Provided by C-IMAGE)

What’s Next?

While C-IMAGE II researchers are still seeking a sample of unweathered Ixtoc-I oil, the samples collected during these expeditions will jumpstart our understanding of this spill. Future analyses will identify chemical and biological changes in the sediment cores, such as shifting redox conditions, changes in benthic meiofauna abundance and diversity, and changes in microbial communities. Researchers will also assess fish stock health by determining PAH compound concentrations in fish and looking for genomic responses and sublethal symptoms related to long-term environmental hydrocarbon exposure. Water samples will provide researchers a rich dataset of water quality, dissolved and particulate organic matter inputs, plankton densities, and concentrations of tiny plastic particles for use in future studies.

C-IMAGE_Ixtoc-I_2279h

Brittany Verbeke removes a sediment core from R/V Weatherbird II’s sampling equipment. (Provided by C-IMAGE)

C-IMAGE’s efforts to uncover new information about fish and oil spill-impacted sediments will help society better understand past spills and better respond to future spills. This research is a significant step toward increased knowledge about the southern and northern Gulf and the Ixtoc I and Deepwater Horizon spill sites. C-IMAGE plans to continue offshore sediment and fish sampling from Mexico through Texas to Louisiana during summer 2016.

 

 

Learn More!

These podcasts provide audio stories about this research:

These study summaries provide findings from recent C-IMAGE research:

C-IMAGE_Ixtoc-I_2279i

The team aboard R/V Justo Sierra gather around the sediment multicorer Firesinger. (Provided by C-IMAGE)

C-IMAGE_Ixtoc-I_2279k

 

 

 

 

 

************

This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems II (C-IMAGE II) consortium.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

NBA Player Makes Science the Star for Miami Youth

CARTHE_NBAJones_2305a

James Jones of the Miami Heat, along with the University of Miami mascot, sits with the Crew 22 camp kids at the opening ceremony. (Photo provided by CARTHE)

NBA Champion James Jones took the stage for young fans this July, but not to talk about sports. Instead, his goal was to get kids excited about cutting-edge science happening in their home town.

Over 40 kids participated in his week-long Crew 22 Training Camp hosted by the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science.

Jones and his wife Destiny started the James Jones Legacy Foundation to reach under-served youth in Miami. Growing up in the inner city, Miami native Jones wants kids in tough circumstances to know they have more options than they realize, saying, “We believe that allowing young people an opportunity to experience a college setting as part of our programming has the potential to transform the lives of these children.”

CARTHE_NBAJones_2305b

Professor Josefina Olascoaga assists camp kids in simulating the effect of the Earth’s spinning on currents by using a rotating tank and dye. (Photo provided by CARTHE)

After warming up the crowd with upbeat music, friendly banter, and just a little basketball talk, Jones let the kids see a different side of him. “I was a finance major in college and an academic all American,” he said, “I used basketball to get an education, but I’m not just a basketball player.”

Jones encouraged the kids to make friends with the science mentors, learn something new, and get outside their comfort zone. Then, he turned the program over to the enthusiastic CARTHE team and joined the group to learn right alongside them.

 

 

CARTHE_NBAJones_2305c

CARTHE Outreach Manager Laura Bracken teaches the group about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the importance of understanding how oil moves in the ocean. (Photo provided by CARTHE)

Laura Bracken, the CARTHE Outreach Manager, opened with the video “Bob the Drifter,” an animated depiction of their high-tech tracking devices that go with the flow of ocean currents, helping scientists understand how things move in water. She gave the example of the rubber ducks that, to this day, land in different parts of the world after a container full of them fell from a cargo ship in 1997. Professor Josefina Olascoaga, a physical oceanographer with CARTHE, asked the kids what they thought caused currents, getting answers like “wind,” “rain,” and “animals.” Using a rotating tank, she and post-doc Guillaume Novelli helped them see how the Earth’s spinning affects currents by adding dyes and watching swirling eddies form, taking the dyes in different directions.

CARTHE_NBAJones_2305d

Campers watch as an airborne drone equipped with cameras is remotely maneuvered to capture images of them boarding the shark-tagging research vessel. (Photo provided by CARTHE)

Now, the team had the opening to relate currents and the oil spill. Bracken asked how many of them knew about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Only two raised their hands. The team explained what happened and how they were using science – and really cool equipment – to answer questions about how oil moves in the ocean. The kids got to see drifters and drones that CARTHE used in the GLAD and SCOPE experiments to understand surface currents in deep and in near-shore waters.

The week’s high-interest activities included a toad fish lab, a wave tank, sea slugs, corals, an aquarium, and aviation. A highlight of the program was a day spent catching and tagging sharks. Jones, who joined the kids every day, said he loved being able to expose them to things most people only see on television. “A lot of them thought this would be something similar to going to the zoo or the Seaquarium, but they’re actually out here baiting lines and taking blood and tagging sharks,” said Jones. “It’s something you see on Discovery Channel but rarely get a chance to do in person.”

CARTHE_NBAJones_2305e

A drone’s perspective of the Jones Crew 22 campers as they gather to board a research vessel and tag sharks. (Photo provided by CARTHE)

CARTHE Director Tamay Özgökmen explained that, given the constant electronic distractions of our ADD world, outreach programs must be creative to bring science to the masses. He believes partnering with celebrities, such as sports stars and musicians, to host educational events provides an avenue to introduce new concepts when people are relaxed and open to ideas that might not ordinarily interest them. For this reason, CARTHE participated in the Tortugas Music Festival in April, where they spoke directly with over 500 individuals and brought scientific discovery to thousands. They hope to expand their reach to non-college audiences through films and other visual/audio media.

 

CARTHE_NBAJones_2305f

The CARTHE team chats with James Jones about the amazing experiences that the Crew 22 kids had during their week-long science camp. From L-R: CARTHE Outreach Manager Laura Bracken, post-doc Guillaume Novelli, Miami Heat Forward James Jones, CARTHE Director and Professor Tamay Ozgokmen, and Professor Josefina Olascoaga. (Photo provided by CARTHE)

And, partnering with the Jones Crew 22 camp has done just that. “I’ve always taken pride in finding new experiences,” said Jones. From the opening ceremony, where he got kids cheering and dancing, to the camp’s end, where he learned as their peer, Jones made science fun. Now, while most of these kids can say that Jones wears a size 16 shoe, they might also be able to tell their friends where the loop current goes, how currents move oil, or what it’s like reeling in a five-foot shark. For Jones and the CARTHE team, that means the week was a success.

Visit the CARTHE website for more information.

 

 

************

This research was made possible in part by grants from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE). The GoMRI is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit www.gulfresearchinitiative.org.

Teens Explore Oil Spill Impacts on Wetlands through Science and Art

CWC_Art-ScienceCamp_2294a

Student April Olivier’s acrylic painting, “Window of Time.” April created this during the CWC Art and Science Camp saying, “In my artwork, I depicted the deterioration of the marsh and land loss over time.” Provided by Murt Conover.

Each summer, parents send their children to camp, trying to match their interests while broadening their horizons. This year, the parents of ten Louisiana students hit the jackpot: the Coastal Waters Consortium (CWC) inaugural Art and Science Camp. This camp challenged participants, engaging both their analytical and creative talents to learn about a locally-relevant and nationally-important subject matter—oiled marsh lands.

For decades, academic institutions have witnessed the arts and sciences compete with each other for funding, recognition, and validation. However, the events at this year’s CWC Art and Science Camp proved that the two disciplines are not only compatible but complementary.

Murt Conover, the Senior Marine Educator for CWC, funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), had been thinking about a combined discipline workshop such as this for years. The idea for the camp moved from dream to reality after a local artist, Karen Alice Clanton, approached Conover with questions regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill following her attendance at a CWC-hosted Coastal Roots workshop. Clanton, whose work focuses heavily on the Louisiana coast, and Conover soon developed a partnership, organizing a summer camp that emphasized the importance of both art and science as tools for communicating environmental concerns. For Conover, this workshop was a “breath of fresh air” because it was outside the traditional Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) focus, bringing together artists and scientists and reaching students who are not typically interested in science-related activities.

CWC_Art-ScienceCamp_2294b

Students created artistic renderings in the field while receiving information from both scientists and artists. Photo by Murt Conover.

The camp took place June 8-11 in Cocodrie, Louisiana, and introduced teenagers to art and science – not as rivals but as allied subjects. The students (ranging from 8th to 12th grade) came from varying backgrounds, some with a noted interest in science and others in art. Students spent their days performing research and experiments about coastal wetlands and then translating what they learned into pieces of art. Upon their arrival, the campers and their parents learned about local professional artists, such as Walter Anderson, from camp instructors and local artists Clanton and Jennifer Koppin. They also heard about GoMRI-funded research that focuses on understanding the impacts of the oil spill on the ecosystems that they would be encountering during the camp. The following days were a melding of science and art.

The mornings began with students going into the wetlands aboard kayaks and research vessels and gathering samples of water, sediment, vegetation, and marine life. They learned about wetlands vegetation and impacts of disasters on them directly from scientists with CWC who are currently conducting research in these areas: Dr. John Marton (marsh biogeochemist at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, LUMCON), Dr. Brian Roberts (marsh ecologist at LUMCON), and graduate student Elizabeth Robinson (studying oil impacts on blue crabs at Louisiana State University). Afternoons consisted of laboratory work analyzing the samples they collected and generating data from them. Then, they went into studios to recreate what they learned through art. Some camp activities included experiences in both disciplines simultaneously.

CWC_Art-ScienceCamp_2294c

Hands-on science, such as collecting samples of marine life in the marsh, helped students gain a deeper understanding about the science that they later used in their artistic depictions. Here students were on board the RV Acadiana. Photo by Murt Conover.

For example, some boat trips consisted of sketching wildlife while listening to an expert explain the surrounding vegetation and the impacts of pollution on various species. The camp finished on a high note, with students holding a gallery show for their families and staff from LUMCON and CWC.

The art aspect of the camp provided an entirely new method of teaching the students about coastal wetlands. While students had no trouble understanding and learning from their experiences in the field, translating the science into works of art helped them look at the material from a completely different angle, fostering a deeper understand of the information. Conover explained that students would “ask the art teachers about composition one minute and then come to me the next minute asking about the details of the organisms they were drawing, wanting to make sure they were accurate.” As the students developed their artwork, it became obvious that they assimilated their experiences from field work and the lab by the visual imagery they created to share their learning.

The students were extremely enthusiastic about the camp, exceeding Conover’s expectations. One student remarked, “I came for the science, but I really learned a lot about art.” Meanwhile, another student who had attended the camp strictly to create art found that she loved working in the field and expressed that she was now considering pursuing wetlands biology once she entered college.

What began as an experiment to educate students on coastal wetlands through art and science soon became a life-changing experience. The impact of the camp on students and teachers set the stage for future CWC Art and Science camps, opening the door to not only education, but expression.

“Magic happened,” said Conover, “I can’t say it any other way.”

CWC_Art-ScienceCamp_2294d CWC_Art-ScienceCamp_2294e CWC_Art-ScienceCamp_2294f CWC_Art-ScienceCamp_2294g

 

 

 

 

 

************

This research was made possible in part by a grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Coastal Waters Consortium (CWC). The GoMRI is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

Louisiana Scientists Present Marsh Research in Public Workshop Series

CWC_PubEdWorkshopIMG_2243a

On board the R/V Acadiana, Dr. Tara Duffy and workshop participants collect marine and water samples in marsh waters. (Photo credit: Jessica Hernandez)

An old philosophical question asks, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Similarly, if a scientist makes an important discovery and people do not hear about it, will it matter?  Scientists are conducting research about oil and other impacts on coastal marine environments. Sharing this unfolding science with communities most affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is a priority for them.

Marine educator Jessica Hernandez with the Coastal Waters Consortium (CWC) voiced the importance of this outreach, saying, “What is scientific research if we cannot share it with the public?” To do this, educators and scientists with the CWC have established a series of public education workshops to highlight recent research about the chemical evolution, biological degradation, and environmental stresses of petroleum and dispersant in the Gulf of Mexico and their effects on coastal and shelf ecosystems.

CWC_PubEdWkshopIMG_2243b

Dr. Chuck Wall presents research on marine life that live in marsh sediment. (Photo credit: Jessica Hernandez)

Dr. Chuck Wall and Dr. Tara Duffy, postdoctoral research associates with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), led the first Gulf Lagniappe Public Education Workshop on October 26, 2013 at the DeFelice Marine Center in Cocodrie, Louisiana. Attendees listened to presentations, explored the bay, used laboratory equipment, and—in true Louisiana fashion—enjoyed a delicious chicken and sausage gumbo lunch.

Dr. Wall focused on two research areas—the hypoxic or “dead zone” in the Gulf and the effect of oil on the tiny creatures that live in salt marsh mud. He talked about the abundance and diversity of these mud-dwelling critters and explained his work that uses samples from both oiled and non-oiled areas to understand how oil exposure affects them.

CWC_PubEdWkshopIMG_2243c

Dr. Tara Duffy helps participants use laboratory equipment to study marine larvae. Photo credit: (Jessica Hernandez)

A fisheries expert, Dr. Duffy spoke about her work with the early life stages of blue crab, anchovy, red snapper, and trout to study the impacts of oil exposure on these animals at this delicate developmental stage. She described lab experiments that exposes larvae to oil and records how the organisms respond.

After the presentations, participants traveled by boat around the local estuary and used trawl nets to collect marine samples. They experienced the biodiversity – both plants and animals – that live right offshore and that are at risk. After the bay tour, the group looked at plankton specimens under a microscope. Viewing these tiny organisms, integral to the Gulf of Mexico’s food web, brought home the many lessons of the day on the interconnectedness of the environment.

CWC_PubEdWorkshopIMG_2243c

On board the R/V Acadiana, workshop participants identify marine animals caught when trawling in marsh estuaries. (Photo credit: Jessica Hernandez)

One attendee explained the desire to continue learning about the research saying, “Unless you are in this career, the aspects of this life and the ecosystems all around us are never in your mind,” adding that it was important to know “the things we do that impact them and how they impact us.”

The CWC will host another all-day Gulf Lagniappe Public Education Workshop on Coastal Wetlands Formation, Functions, and Susceptibility on November 23 at the LUMCON facility in Chauvin, Louisiana. For more information, go to the CWC website. To register directly online, go to http://blogcwc.weebly.com/events.html.

This research was made possible in part by a grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Coastal Waters Consortium. The GoMRI is a 10-year, $500 million independent research program established by an agreement between BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident and the potential associated impact of this and similar incidents on the environment and public health.

Tulane Scientists Hold Oil Spill Q&A Event with Vietnamese Fishing Community

C-MEDSVietnameseFishing_2256a

Louisiana Shrimp being weighed before sold. (Photo: Kerry Maloney/Louisiana Seafood News www.Louisianaseafoodnews.com)

Many people outside of the Gulf Coast region are not aware of the large population of Vietnamese residents who live across this area, in concentrated communities from Texas to Alabama.

Arriving as refugees during and after the Vietnam War, they settled along the Gulf Coast to work in the booming commercial fishing industry.  Today, the business of catching and processing seafood for sale around the country remains an important economic driver for their community. As a result, the Macondo oil spill profoundly affected the livelihoods of many Vietnamese residents of Louisiana.

In order to address the concerns of this unique community, a joint team of researchers from Tulane University’s School of Science and Engineering and School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine provided information and fielded questions on a Sunday in July at a Vietnamese Catholic church in Houma, Louisiana. Titled, “Is it safe? The Oil Spill, Dispersants, and Frequently Asked Questions,” the event took place after mass with about 20 community members in attendance.

C-MEDSVietnameseFishing_2256b

Tulane University held an outreach event on July 21, 2013 at Our Lady of Holy Rosary church in Houma, LA, to address issues related to the oil spill. The church is attended by the local Vietnamese community, many of whom work in the seafood industry. (Photo courtesy of C-MEDS)

Vijay John of Tulane University, Director of the Consortium for the Molecular Engineering of Dispersant Systems (C-MEDS), explained that in order to adequately answer all the questions, it was important that both Schools be represented at the meeting, saying, “The C-MEDS consortium is centered at Tulane University and is in close proximity to the communities that were most directly affected by the Deepwater Horizon incident. In addition, the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane has an extensive research and outreach program on the health impacts of the oil spill.”

Debi Benoit, a Research Board member of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), began the session by explaining the history and mission of GoMRI. Then Vijay John, along with undergraduate students who work with him on dispersant studies, gave brief talks about what dispersants do and why they were used in the oil spill response. Using demonstrations to show the crowd how they worked, the presenters brought up a volunteer child from the audience to shake vials to make emulsions form. Dr. Jeffery Wickliffe, a Tulane toxicologist, ended the talk by explaining the methods researchers used to test seafood for safety.

At the conclusion of the talk, the questions began. “I earn my livelihood shucking oysters. How would I know if the oysters I am working with are contaminated?” “If I develop a skin rash 6 months after working with seafood, where do I go? Who do I turn to?”  “My seafood catch is poor. How do I know if it is due to the spill?” “If the state closed certain areas due to contamination, would the water flowing between the closed and open areas not bring oil or other toxic materials into our catches?” And, “Should we be concerned about health hazards even now if we inadvertently come into contact with a contaminant?”

The audience was very polite, but their questions clearly showed that they had concerns about short- and long-term effects of the spill, both on their health and on their ability to provide for their families. The speakers listened with concern, answering questions with the latest scientific research. Dr. Wickliffe fielded quite a few health questions and was extremely helpful in addressing the audience’s concerns. The team also directed the community to organizations and resources that might be a source of ongoing support with health or economic issues. Because of the success of this program, Tulane researchers plan to hold similar events with local community groups in the future as a way of engaging those most affected by the oil spill and sharing their science findings with them.

The Consortium for the Molecular Engineering of Dispersant Systems (C-MEDS) received a research grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). The GoMRI is a 10-year, $500 million independent research program established by an agreement between BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident and the potential associated impact of this and similar incidents on the environment and public health.

CWC Involves All in the Family in Oil Spill Marsh Science

CWC-FamilyMarshScience_2263a

Alan and Anissa Holekamp enjoyed looking at a juvenile blue crab that was caught in the trawl aboard the R/V Acadiana during Dads and Daughters Day. (Photo by Murt Conover)

“My mom would love this boat ride.” “I wish my child could walk the marshes.”

Murt Conover, Senior Marine Educator and Aquarist with the Coastal Waters Consortium (CWC), often hears comments like these when leading teacher and student groups at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) facility. She thought it seemed like a “no brainer” to put parents and kids together in outreach programs, and thus the inaugural Father/Daughter and Mother/Son Discovering Coastal Waters Science events were born.

CWC-FamilyMarshScience_2263b

Mothers and sons identified, sorted, and counted the species caught in a trawl in Terrebonne Bay aboard the R/V Acadiana. (Photo by Murt Conover)

Conover loves planning educational activities that get local families outside in the marshes and waterways to learn about the delicate ecosystem that surrounds them. They also learn about impacts from natural and manmade hazards that affect this region, one being the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. She explains, “We like to get people to experience it first hand, because ownership leads to responsibility. We have a very ‘get your feet wet and hands muddy’ philosophy as far as education goes!” But the events are not just pretty nature walks. Participants often gather samples and analyze them in the LUMCON lab using state-of-the-art research technology. “We do the scientific process from start to finish,” Conover says proudly.

CWC-FamilyMarshScience_2263c

Groups of dads and daughters conducted experiments to learn about how oil can behave in currents before and after it has been dispersed. (Photo by Murt Conover)

Earlier this year, close to Valentine’s Day, CWC hosted a Dads and Daughters Day. They began with a ride on the R/V Acadiana to see the beauty of the Louisiana coast and to experience the kinds of tasks scientists perform on a research vessel. That afternoon, the group conducted oil-spill related experiments in the lab. After the experiments, they finished the day learning about marsh habitat.

CWC hosted a Mothers and Sons Day in May in honor of Mother’s Day. This event was similar to the Dads and Daughters Day, but because of the warmer weather, they constructed Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and tested them outside. Both the moms and the sons enjoyed working with this research technology and being out in the field. One son said, “We walked into the marsh. That was a first for me. We saw little house-like areas made of sticks.” He added, “I’m glad to see the oil spill didn’t kill all of the animals.”

CWC-FamilyMarshScience_2263d

Mother Shawn Duplessis and her son Brady learned the names of the vegetation found on a natural ridge in the salt marsh. (Photo by Murt Conover)

One of the main goals of these programs was to acquaint locals with current research being done to learn about the environmental response to the oil spill, and participants’ feedback showed success. One mom gave this family outreach event the perfect review, commenting, “I wasn’t aware of the structure in place for studying oil spill impacts. It is comforting to realize that compassionate and competent people are researching independently, because without the independent research, it would be hard to trust the data provided to the public.”

Conover enjoyed watching the father/daughter and mother/son dynamics as they learned about the coastal environment. And since her own father came to support her efforts, the father/daughter event was even more special. She laughs, “Having my dad there that day, I got the same kind of experience as the other girls. It was fun to be the educator and the daughter.”

Both inaugural events had full attendance and participants and staff were pleased with these learning experiences. The CWC plans to host similar family-themed events in the coming months.

CWC-FamilyMarshScience_2263e CWC-FamilyMarshScience_2263f CWC-FamilyMarshScience_2263g

This research was made possible in part by a grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) with the Coastal Waters Consortium. The GoMRI is a 10-year, $500 million independent research program established by an agreement between BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident and the potential associated impact of this and similar incidents on the environment and public health.