Author Archives: Stephanie Ellis

Teachers Participate in ECOGIG Research Expedition

4896Two Georgia middle school teachers recently joined a consortium research cruise through the AMP-IT-UP (Advanced Manufacturing and Prototyping Integrated to Unlock Potential) program, a multi-year grant focused on cultivating the next generation of STEM innovators.  Learn more about the program and the educators’ experiences here.

DEEPEND Highlighted on Oregon Coast Aquarium Oceanscape Network

4892The deep is by far the largest affected habitat from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Join diverse scientists as they continue their long-term investigation on impacts of this environmental disaster on the deep-sea from December 4 to 8, 2017.

Creep Into the DEEPEND is a WhaleTimes, Inc. Virtual Research Mission, in cooperation with the DEEPEND Consortium and the Oceanscape Network. For more information visit whaletimes.org

Full schedule:

Monday: Fish Parasites by Matt Woodstock
Tuesday: Oddities of the Deep (Mystery of the Monster Baby by Heather Bracken-Grissom and It’s Not Odd, It’s A Heteropod by Kris Clark)
Wednesday: Babies of the Deep-Sea (Studying Baby Snappers by Sebastian Velez and Baby Crustaceans by Laura Timm)
Thursday: Strange Adaptations of the Deep (Silver Camouflaging by Tammy Frank)
Friday: Eating Strategies of Deep-Sea Animals (Into the Gape by April Cook)

More information available here.

ECOGIG Scientists Embark on “Jewels of the Gulf” Research Cruise

4493The 12-day expedition will assess the effects of oil, methane, and chemical dispersants on deep-sea corals. Remotely operated vehicles at over 1000 meters depth will capture hundreds of high-resolution still images of corals that the researchers have been monitoring since 2010. The team will analyze the images and compare them to those from previous expeditions to document the spill’s impacts and assess the coral’s post-spill recovery and survival.

Post cruise news!!!

The team, led by Dr. Iliana Baums from Pennsylvania State University, collected both high resolution images of the corals to document changes over time and live coral samples to study back in the lab. During the expedition, a live ROV camera feed was broadcast so the public could view what the scientists were seeing in real time.  To learn more about the Jewels of the Gulf expedition, meet the scientists, and more, visit ECOGIG’s Cruise Blogs here.

Now, that amazing footage is available on ECOGIG’s YouTube channel… see below!

Learn more about the Jewels of the Gulf expedition here.

Study Finds Small-Scale Flows Alter Transport Pathways on the Ocean’s Surface

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The blue tracer patch shows the tracer advection by the full velocity field (large and small-scale flows) while the red tracer patch shows the tracer advection by the mesoscale-only field. The mesoscale transport barriers are in gray in the background. Image credit: A.C. Haza, T.M. Ozgokmen, and P. Hogan.

Scientists analyzed model simulations of tracer dispersion in a Gulf of Mexico eddy to find out if small-scale flows surrounding the eddy influenced where the tracer went. The researchers observed that the small-scale flows disrupted the eddy’s large-scale flow patterns enough so that 20-50% of the tracer that was entrained in the eddy leaked out, crossed into surrounding areas, and followed flows of nearby eddies. The researchers published their findings in Ocean Modelling: Impact of submesoscales on surface material distribution in a Gulf of Mexico mesoscale eddy.

Understanding particle movement at the ocean’s surface is important for several applications, one being the tracking of buoyant pollutants such as oil spills that require rapid forecasts to reduce environmental and socioeconomic damage. However, this is a challenge because of highly variable surface currents, and wide-ranging spatial scales on the ocean’s surface.

Ocean circulation models can reproduce the meso or large-scale (greater than 10s of km, lasting days to months) circulation features using the assimilation of satellite altimetry data.  However, submesoscale (100 m to 10 km scales, lasting hours to a day) circulation features have different dynamics and little is known about how they interact with mesoscale circulations and affect transport of buoyant tracers. This study’s authors used the Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model to simulate an eddy that exhibited bursts of small-scale flows along its rim and applied filters to isolate the mesoscale from the submesoscale features. The researchers compared the entrainment of a tracer by the eddy with and without submesoscale features and then analyzed its dispersion properties on the ocean’s surface.

“We have been relying on the mesoscale field to predict the distribution of oil spills, biogeochemical tracers, oil and plastic in the upper ocean,” explained study author Angelique Haza. “This study helps us better understand how the submesoscales dramatically alter the surface tracer distribution predicted by the mesoscale-only field.”

Haza said that the results show that while small-scale surface flows increase the overall dispersion of a tracer, they also generate areas of high and low tracer concentrations by accumulating the tracer into lines of convergence that intertwine with the mesoscale pathways.  “In practical applications, this patchiness in oil concentration may help responders to locate pockets of surface oil for possible recovery for a limited time.”

The authors suggest that future research address the spatiotemporal variability of small-scale flows (more pronounced during winter), the influence of strong winter winds and summer wave action and latitude on transport, and modelling these transport processes.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N7BC3WJC.

The study’s authors are A.C. Haza, T.M. Ozgokmen, and P. Hogan.

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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). Other funding sources included the Office of Naval Research (Grant #N000141110087).

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/.

© Copyright 2010-2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

DEEPEND Hosts American Heritage School Science Camp Students

4577Twenty students recently visited consortium researchers at Nova Southeastern University to learn about deep-sea organisms. The students heard presentations from graduate students, observed an active toxicity experiment, and helped researchers collect data during an hourly monitoring of oil-exposed crustaceans.

Read about the event here.

CONCORDE Identifies New Details about Gulf Plankton and Marine Snow Distribution Patterns

4569The CONCORDE scientists have been hard at work processing the data collected from the cruises on the R/V Point Sur and the R/V Pelican. Early analyses of images collected during consortium research cruises are finding new ways that the physical environment affects the distribution of organisms and marine snow in the water column.

Read more about their analyses here.

CARTHE and Waterlust Release “The Motion of the Ocean” Video

4565CARTHE has conducted some of the largest ocean current surveys and expeditions to collect important data about material transport in the ocean. This video highlights the tools and techniques that modern researchers use to study ocean currents and develop more accurate ocean circulation models.

Watch the video here.

ACER Tool Talk Series Features Stable Isotope Analysis

4561Consortium researchers use stable isotope analysis to determine stable isotope ratios in an organism’s tissues to reconstruct food webs in oiled and non-oiled coastal environments. Specifically, they collect blood and muscle tissue samples from mid-level and higher order consumers, like sharks, to find out if there was any effect of the oil on the consumer population. As carbon isotope ratios can indicate if the shark was feeding in coastal waters verses offshore waters, one of the questions this analysis may help answer is if these consumers were able to avoid the oiled waters.

Read the entry here.

Read the Consumer Research Group factsheet.

 

CRGC Releases Two-Pager Detailing Transdisciplinary Student Outreach

4557CRGC experts come from from diverse fields. Working directly with experts outside their own fields of study enhances students’ insights about disaster, recovery, and resilience, while improving their problem solving skills and passion for their work.

The two-page pamphlet describes the consortium’s efforts to provide graduate and undergraduate students with hands-on opportunities to work with transdisciplinary research methods and best practices for addressing community disasters.

Read the brochure to learn more!

GoMRI Science Featured by Science Journal for Kids

4553Recent research into Deepwater Horizon’s impacts on salt marsh fiddler crabs has been adapted for the journal’s Environmental Science Journal for Teens publication. The research team included researchers from two Louisiana State University-led projects (12) and the Florida Institute of Oceanography.

Read the article.

Additional materials can be accessed here..

ACER Fact Sheet Highlights Nitrogen Cycling Group

4549The ACER fact sheet series focuses on the emerging research from our seven research groups. This series will include a total of 15 fact sheets over the course of two years (2016-2017) with each individual research group receiving two fact sheets covering their research and publications.

The Nitrogen Cycling research group investigates the processes that convert nitrogen from one form to another in coastal habitats.

Learn more about their research.

Explore ACER’s Fact Sheet archive.

ECOGIG Hosts Second Annual Ocean Discovery Camp

4541Campers aged 11-14 explored ocean topics such as deep oceans, ecosystems, and chemosynthetic processes through hands-on projects, games, videos, and slideshows. The students also designed and built their own remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and created stop-motion videos based on the camp’s themes.

View the campers’ ROVs.

Watch their stop-motion films.

See photos from the camp.

ECOGIG Education & Outreach Site

CARTHE Drifter Study Tracks Oil Near Mississippi Delta Platform Leak

4536The team coordinated with another GoMRI project led by Villy Kourafalou to conduct a unique study that observed oil’s movement using satellites, drones, and surface current drifters to improve how responders monitor and predict oil transport. Researchers focused on an oil platform just offshore the Mississippi Delta and collected unprecedented information about the way Gulf of Mexico fronts created by spreading river waters influence hydrocarbons pathways. The updated oil drift algorithms, which include oil thickness, are expected to greatly improve the ability to monitor and predict oil transport in the event of a future spill.

Read more about the research here.

LADC-GEMM Undergraduate Student Reflects on Summer Cruise Experience

4532Matt Firneno recently completed Bachelor’s degrees in physics and mathematics at the University of New Orleans. He participated in LADC-GEMM’s recent research cruise aboard R/V Pelican, where he assisted learned about different forms of data acquisition and real-time data analysis. Learn more about his research and experiences here.

CWC Launches Blog Series Featuring Undergraduate Interns

4528Since 2011, LUMCON has been host to groups of undergraduate students taking part in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program. The REU Program helps student interns interested in scientific careers gain experience conducting research in the field. CWC will profile these students and their research through a series of blog and social media posts.

Keep up with the blog series here.

For more information about the REU program, check out the REU Internships page on the LUMCON website.

CRGC Releases RAND Summer Newsletter

4524The RAND Gulf States Policy Institute’s Summer Newsletter includes an interview with CRGC outreach coordinator Elizabeth Thornton and highlights the consortium’s latest research, outreach, and education activities.

Elizabeth talks about how CRGC’s research, outreach, and education activities are helping communities across the Gulf Coast to more effectively understand, withstand, and overcome the multiple stressors brought on by such disasters as the 2010 oil spill. Elizabeth also shares how CRGC is working to provide community members and decisionmakers with solutions for building resilience to future catastrophic oil spills.

Read the newsletter and the interview here.

CARTHE Participates in Biscayne Bay Marine Health Summit

4474CARTHE and thousands of scientists across the world through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative have spent years studying the Gulf, but one of the most important benefits of this research is that it can be used in other water bodies to lead to better ecosystems globally.

Consortium researchers met with government officials, advocates, and other scientists to develop a 10-year plan to mitigate contaminants and seagrass die-off in Biscayne Bay.

Learn more about these mitigation efforts here.

LADC-GEMM Blog Post Introduces “Will” the Seaglider

4506“Will” is an underwater autonomous vehicle that will survey and collect acoustic Gulf of Mexico data for approximately eight weeks. Every four hours, the glider surfaces, relays information back to a base station at Oregon State University, and descends again to collect more information.

Will is surveying and collecting acoustic data in the Gulf until July 22, 2017, when he will be recovered by a small boat by OSU graduate student Samara Haver and Sean Griffin of Proteus Technologies.

Read more about this technology here.

Video Highlights CARTHE Collaboration to Monitor Taylor Oil Leak

4502The expedition to the Taylor Oil leak site took place in April 2017 and involved joint field operations between CARTHE researchers and organizations including Water Mapping LLC, NOAA, NASA, the Norwegian Meteorological Institute (MET), and MDA Corporation (Canada) to sample the Taylor Energy spill site in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The purpose of this project is to understand the influence of the Mississippi River plume in the transport of the oil spill from the Taylor Energy site.

Watch the video here.

CRGC Releases Database of Oil Spill Claim Sources

4448/4489Since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, there has been extensive data collection across the Gulf of Mexico region to better understand the economic impacts of the disaster, particularly on the fishing, seafood, and tourism industries in Gulf Coastal communities that were affected by the spill. There has also been a need to locate claims related to the oil spill— either made or paid out.

The new resource uses a variety of potential sources, such as the U.S. Census Bureau, to help businesses, researchers, community members, and other stakeholders locate information about fisheries, tourism, and oil spill claims. The database is intended to introduce users to information sources that may be less widely known than standard economic activity databases.

Database of Potential Sources on Fisheries, Tourism, and Oil Spill Claims

 

Meet C-IMAGE Student of the Month Melissa Rohal

4479Melissa Rohal is on a mission to stick up for the little guys. They’re not as attractive as dolphins or sea turtles, but benthic macrofauna are all the rage in the deep ocean. Small animals like worms, copepods and nematodes fill a key role in the food web and act as indicator species of the health of the ecosystem.

Melissa is a Ph.D. student at Texas A&M – Corpus Christi’s Harte Institute. She is investigating the effects of oil spills on the deep-sea ecosystem services that meio- and macro-fauna provide. Learn more about her journey and research here.

C-IMAGE Public Education and Outreach Site

C-IMAGE Blog

CARTHE and NASA Team Up for Radar Validation

4474The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) DopplerScat radar is able to measure both ocean currents and wind, which influence the transport of materials in the ocean. JPL members joined CARTHE’s recent SPLASH experiment to validate the radar and expressed a desire to coordinate data exchange with CARTHE in the future.

Find out more about this partnership and technology here.

CARTHE Blog Highlights Drones Used in SPLASH Experiment

4468CARTHE researchers relied on high-resolution cameras mounted to drones to track drift cards’ initial transport during the SPLASH experiment to measure currents. The acquired images are used to see how small scale surface currents behave, especially around fronts. The GPS-equipped LASER drifters collect data for 2-4 months over many kilometers, while the drones allow CARTHE scientists to see what happens at scales of 1 m – 200 m, flying over a patch of drift cards for about an hour.

Learn more about this technology here.

CARTHE Blog

 

Get to Know CRGC Grad Student Betsy Lopez

4460Betsy is a masters student at Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy. She is also the program coordinator of Internships and Experiential Learning at the Newcomb College Institute, where she manages grants and endowments and oversees experiential learning opportunities, the alumnae-mentoring program, and the Kenya summer abroad program.

Learn more about Betsy here.

CONCORDE Hosts Third Fisherman-Scientist Bridge Building Workshop

4465Approximately 15 local fishermen and their families attended the workshop to meet the scientists and voice their concern about topics such as sediment and marine snow. The fishermen also learned how to use the YSI ProDSSII conductivity/temperature-depth meter (CTD) to collect depth salinity and temperature profiles. They will continue collecting and returning data through the end of the project.

Read more about the workshop and CONCORDE’s collaboration with fishermen here.

 

CRGC Launches Improved Resources Page

4448The page now offers visitors an easy-to-navigate search function that allows them to explore CRGC-generated and external resources tailored for audiences of academics, community leaders, fishing/seafood industry stakeholders, healthcare providers, and policymakers. The page will continue to expand as new research findings become available and additional tools and resources are developed.

CRGC Resources Page

RECOVER Virtual Lab Now Available for iPad

4444In the wake of Deepwater Horizon, scientists have been working diligently to understand the impacts of the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico along with the wildlife and people that depend on it.

RECOVER’s focus has been on the impacts of fish, specifically the economically and ecologically important #mahi-mahi and #reddrum. Most of their research and experiments take place behind closed doors in laboratories with extremely controlled settings. As a result, it is not always feasible for the general public to see what happens day-to-day. RECOVER is extremely excited to bring you our solution – the RECOVER Virtual Lab. A novel approach to bring marine science into any classroom, foster STEM learning, and improve student performance in science classes.

The app allows students to analyze real data collected by consortium scientists and observe how oil-exposed mahi and redfish swim compared to unexposed control fish. Lesson plans for teachers and quizzes testing student’s performance are built-in to the app’s interface, and more experiments are in development.

Download the app on iTunes today!

Meet C-IMAGE Student of the Month Katelyn Knight

4436The role of microbial communities during oil spills gets a bit of attention due to their role in biodegradation of oil and dispersants. Since 2010, research have discovered that dispersed oil inhibits growth of certain bacteria strains, and biodegradation occurs in different phases depending on the weathering of the oil. Katelyn Knight looks to make her mark in microbial research with her studies on their community structure in response to changes in the marine environment. Her work at the University of West Florida makes her or C-IMAGE Student of the Month of March 2017.

Knight is a master’s student at the University of West Florida’s Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation. She analyzes bacterial communities to determine which environmental parameters influence community structure over time. Learn more about her background, research, and findings here!

C-IMAGE Public Education and Outreach Site

C-IMAGE Blog

 

 

Sea Grant Brings Partnership with GoMRI to NOAA for Oil Spill Preparedness

3961Friday April 28 Brown Bag Luncheon

The Sea Grant Oil Spill Outreach Program is collaborating with NOAA entities to extend the two-way dialogue with sectors who were impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A brown-bag lunch presentation will be held on Friday, April 28 at noon eastern time in Silver Spring, MD (NOAA Central Library) and is open to the public, either in person or via webinar at https://goo.gl/FxONur.

Presentation highlights will include the effective public/private outreach partnership between Sea Grant and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiate (GoMRI), program evaluation, and extending the Sea Grant model to a national level.  The presentation will also highlight the cooperation between Sea Grant and NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) that leverages the science outreach expertise of Sea Grant with the operational scientific support and injury assessment roles of OR&R to create a unique extension and engagement program.

Speakers:

Stephen Sempier, Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Manager and Deputy Director at Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium where he has led or coordinated several Gulf-wide, NOAA-supported projects during the last ten years.

Scott Lundgren, Chief of the Emergency Response Division (ERD) at NOAA OR&R where he leads scientific support in spill preparedness and response to 150 coastal oil and chemical pollution emergencies annually.

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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 Sea Grant Oil Spill Outreach Team synthesizes peer-reviewed science for a broad range of general audiences, particularly those who live and work across the Gulf Coast. Sea Grant offers oil-spill-related 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.

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Study Analyzes Trends and Gaps in Oil Spill Literature Since 1968

3965

Word cloud provided by David Murphy.

Researchers surveyed oil spill studies between 1968 and 2015 to characterize the field and describe changes. The team found that, despite its episodic nature, oil spill research is a rapidly expanding field with a growth rate greater than science as a whole. Research attention shifted dramatically to the Gulf of Mexico following Deepwater Horizon, rising from 2% of studies in 2004-2008 to 61% in 2014-2015, making Deepwater Horizon the most studied oil spill. The analyses provided insights into research trends and gaps, particularly a long-standing lack of human health studies (less than 1% of the oil spill literature). The researchers published their findings in Marine Pollution Bulletin: An in-depth survey of the oil spill literature since 1968: Long term trends and changes since Deepwater Horizon.

Oil spill impacts on environmental, economic, and public health make them an important research topic for a broad scientific community, including biologists, oceanographers, engineers, chemists, social scientists and economists. Using the Web of Science database, this study team identified over 11,000 oil spill-related papers. The team randomly subsampled 10% (1,255) of these publications and organized them by discipline, type (laboratory, field, or mesoscale/mesocosm), location, category (literature review or research study), dispersant-related, and specific spill event and then created a publically available Oil Spill Paper Database, which they used for further analyses.

Spikes in academic interest in oil spills coincided with “hyper-spills” that attracted major media and academic attention. The most notable spikes occurred in the early-1970s, 1989-1992, and 2010 to present, coinciding with the Santa Barbara, Exxon Valdez, and Deepwater Horizon spills, respectively. These events drove the geographical focus of oil spill research, with a notable shift away from the North Atlantic and North Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. The focus on hyper-spills appeared to generate a boom and bust cycle in interest and funding. Implications of this cycle may include the loss of hands-on experience between hyper-spills and increased time launching new research programs during boom phases.

The proportion of biological and physical studies remained generally consistent over time, with biological studies comprising about one third of oil spill research. Chemistry studies after the mid-1970s maintained a 25-30% share, but dipped recently to 20%. Physical studies remained fairly consistent at 10-15%, and engineering studies increased after the late 1990s to 10-15%. Modeling studies were the least common through the early 1980s (<10%), but grew and maintained a 10-15% proportion afterwards. Interdisciplinary studies grew from 20-30% in the 1970s to 40-50% in the 2000s. Review papers fell from 10% to 5%. Studies considering dispersants doubled to 20% recently, and those involving a field component rose to over 70% in the early 1980s, then declined to 45%.

Human health, certain geographical regions, and oil types such as diluted bitumen and fuel represent gaps in current oil spill literature. Estuarine, brackish, riverine, and freshwater environments received less research attention than coastal and pelagic environments. Oil spill impact studies focused more on microbes, invertebrates, and fish than on plankton and protozoa. There has been growth in the oil spill research community, particularly graduate student involvement since Deepwater Horizon. The growth in the oil spill research field suggests that scientists, policy makers, and responders may be better equipped to understand and respond to future spills.

Study author David Murphy shared his thoughts on the largest research gap, “Little work has been done to understand the effects of oil spills on human health. This is a gaping hole when you consider that hundreds of thousands or even up to a million people can be exposed to oil during a cleanup effort. Our work showed that the Niger Delta is, or should be, ground zero for looking at the human health effects of oil pollution, as many residents there experience chronic, high-magnitude exposure to spilled hydrocarbons through drinking water, outdoor air, contaminated food, and dermal contact.”

The Oil Spill Paper Database is publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) website at doi:10.7266/N7SN06Z4.

The study’s authors are David Murphy, Brad Gemmell, Liana Vaccari, Cheng Li, Hernando Bacosa, Meredith Evans, Colbi Gemmell, Tracy Harvey, Maryam Jalali, and Tagbo H.R. Niepa.

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This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies II (DROPPS 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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Oceanography Highlights Findings from Deepwater Horizon Research

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Cover of the September 2016 Oceanography Magazine, Volume 29, Number 3

7th year of the largest coordinated research endeavor around an ocean event.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and subsequent response efforts raised concerns about impacts on the Gulf of Mexico’s ocean and coastal environments. The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), in response to the spill, initiated an unprecedented 10-year scientific research program funded by BP. Seven years into the program, we know more than ever before about the Gulf’s complex environment, dynamic processes, and response to stressors.

Oceanography magazine dedicated a special issue to this research, GoMRI: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science, and below are highlights from 13 papers it featured.*

WHERE OIL WENT

Surface oil covered a cumulative area of 149,000 km2 in the northeastern Gulf. Wind and currents transported surface slicks towards land, affecting approximately 1,800-2,100 km of shoreline, a third of which were moderately to heavily oiled including 1,075 km in Louisiana. Macondo oil was visually evident at the edge of Louisiana marshes and up to 10 m inland.

Subsea oil and gas rose through the water column and formed an underwater oil plume that covered an area of approximately 930 km2 and made direct contact with continental slope sediments. A significant proportion of surface oil returned to the deep seafloor primarily through an extensive marine oil snow sedimentation event known as a “dirty blizzard,” forming a 0.5-1.2 cm thick floc layer.

Cleanup efforts removed oil from 73% of beaches affected by the spill, but residual oil remained as surface residue balls (SRBs), submerged oil mats, and in marsh plants and sediment, and is subject to continued weathering, biodegradation, and possible resuspension.

HOW OIL CHANGED

Crude oils contain thousands of compounds that, upon entering a marine environment, undergo significant compositional changes from weathering processes such as evaporation, dissolution, emulsification, dispersion, sedimentation/flocculation, microbial degradation, and photooxidation.

Most crude oil compounds are readily biodegradable and generally follow a clear degradation pattern: n-alkanes first followed by branched alkanes, lower molecular weight aromatics, higher molecular weight aromatics, and cyclic alkanes. Anaerobic biodegradation is a slower process than aerobic degradation, and crude oil compounds can remain relatively unaltered in reduced sediments and environments for long time periods and may appear as relatively fresh oil compared to surface oil exposed to aerobic conditions.

MICROBIAL RESPONSE AFFECTING OIL FATE

Macondo oil had a relatively low content of persistent resins and asphaltenes, and warm temperatures supported geochemical and biological degradation. The prevalence of oil-degrading bacteria generated a prompt response from the microbial community and subsequent biodegradation. Microbial communities in the plume were different from those in non-plume waters and exhibited a significant enrichment of hydrocarbon-degrading metabolic genes. Aerobic oxidation of short chain alkanes, propane, and butane caused up to 70% of oxygen depletion observed in the oil plume.

Residual oil trapped in Pensacola Beach sands showed a progression of microbial populations linked to hydrocarbon degradation. Early-responder microbes were followed by populations capable of aromatic hydrocarbon decomposition. Microbial abundance in oiled sands was 10-10,000 times that in clean sands in the first four months after oil came ashore.  A typical beach-environment microbial community returned after one year but differed significantly from pre-spill communities.

DEEP OCEAN IMPACTS

Carbon from the spill was likely incorporated into the mesopelagic (200-1,000 m depth) food web through consumption of prey rich in depleted carbon. The nature of microbial communities in the deep sea likely changed. An 80-93% decline in benthic foraminifera was related to reducing conditions and increased polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) concentrations.

Deepsea megafauna had lower diversity and abundance near the spill site relative to regions farther away, though blue marlin, Atlantic sailfish, blackfin tuna, and dolphinfish showed no significant reduction in larval abundance. Bottom-dwelling golden tilefish had the highest concentrations of naphthalene metabolite levels in bile measured in fishes globally. Tunas and jacks collected near the spill site exhibited developmental crude oil cardiotoxicity, suggesting a possible loss of early predator recruits that spawn in open waters. Sperm whale acoustic activity decreased near the spill site by a factor of two and increased farther away, suggesting they relocated.

Hard-bottom communities, including natural and artificial reefs, suffered injuries that were severe and long-lasting. Macrofauna and meiofauna diversity had not recovered after four years, and community structure differences still persist. Deep-sea colonial corals, in particular octocorals near the spill site, showed visible evidence of impact, and flocculent material covering the coral contained chemical fingerprints associated with Macondo oil and DOSS (dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate). Researchers returned to these coral eight times and observed continued impacts such as tissue death with some coral skeletons secondarily colonized by hydrozoans.

Field measurements showed that planktonic community abundance and species composition returned to pre-spill conditions within a year. Laboratory experiments indicated that zooplankton exposed to sublethal crude oil levels bioaccumulated five PAHs, which could increase their susceptibility to predation and enhance trophic transfer of toxic PAHs.

MARSH IMPACTS

There were immediate negative impacts in moderately to heavily oiled marshes in southeastern Louisiana. The average concentration of total alkanes and PAHs in June 2013 was 20 and 374 times pre-oiled conditions, respectively. Total alkane concentrations were on a trajectory to be near baseline levels by 2015, but this did not occur likely a result of multiple resuspension events from storms.

Some damaged marsh shorelines showed precipitous shoreline erosion at least 2.5 years after oiling due to damaged root systems. Marshes lost due to oiling and shoreline erosion will not return without human intervention. Forty-two months after the spill, heavily oiled marshes showed near-complete plant mortality, and live aboveground biomass was 50% of reference marshes. Decreased living marsh vegetation and population levels of some fauna were obvious for 2-5 years. Meiofauna density was lower along with S. alterniflora grasses in heavily oiled areas.

Fiddler crab average size declined and there were proportion shifts in two species composition. Periwinkle snails density declined, and a slow recovery in abundance and size distribution was related to habitat recovery. Worms, seed shrimp, and mud dragons had not recovered to background levels 48 months post-spill. Killifish showed little evidence of spill impacts. Horse fly abundance declined sharply. Arthropods were suppressed by 50% in 2010 but had largely recovered in 2011. Seaside Sparrow nests on unoiled sites were more likely to fledge than those on oiled sites. Loons varied in frequency with PAHs by year and exhibited reduced body mass as PAH concentrations increased.

These effects are expected to continue – possibly for decades – to some degree, or the marsh ecosystem will reach a new baseline condition in heavily damaged areas.

FISH & SEAFOOD IMPACTS

Commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries were closed in fall 2010 in areas where oil was observed and predicted to travel and reopened by April 2011. Impacts on fisheries productivity were relatively short-lived, with landings and their values returning to pre-spill levels or greater for most fishery species. However, long-term effects are yet to be determined. Laboratory studies indicate that early life stages of fish are generally more sensitive to oil and dispersant’s sublethal effects (with some resulting in reduced swimming performance and cardiac function) than adults.

Public health risks from exposure to crude oil residue through seafood or coastal beaches returned to pre-spill levels after the spill dissipated. Seafood from reopened areas was found to be safe for consumption, with PAH levels comparable to those found in common local processed foods. PAH concentrations detected in many seafood samples during and following the spill were at least 2 orders of magnitude below levels of public health concern. DOSS was detected in less than 1% of samples and at levels below public health concern.

Tests on SRBs showed that Vibrio vulnificus were 10 times higher than the surrounding sand and up to 100 times higher than seawater, suggesting that SRBs can act as reservoirs for bacteria including human pathogens. Coquina clams initially showed higher PAH levels relative to the surrounding sand, but levels decreased continuously and were undetectable in sand (one year) and Coquina tissues (two years).

DISPERSANT EFFECTS & FUTURE TECHNOLOGIES

Dispersant increased the oil fraction that spread within the water column and laterally displaced oil that reached the sea surface. Dispersants reduced droplet sizes and rise velocities, resulting in a more than tenfold increase in the downstream length of the surface oil footprint.

Chemical dispersants may be more toxic to some marine organisms than previously thought, and small oil droplets created by dispersant use and directly consumed by marine organisms are often more toxic than crude oil alone. Dispersant effects on microorganisms might be taxa-specific, and some studies suggest that dispersants stimulated biodegradation while others conclude the opposite. Degradation rates of hexadecane and naphthalene were more rapid in the absence of dispersants, as was the overall removal of the water-accommodated oil fraction.

Dispersant applied at the broken riser pipe helped form a deep water oil plume. DOSS was likely transferred to the plume and was later detected in surface sediments, on corals, and within oil-sand patties.

A future option is development of plant-based materials for efficient chemical herding of compact oil slicks into layers that are sufficiently thick to enable oil burning or skimming. Opportunities exist for new dispersants that work in synergy with current dispersants and mitigate some of their disadvantages. Examples include a system containing soybean lecithin and the surfactant Tween 80, substitution of lecithin for DOSS, and using carbon-based particles and silicas to stabilize emulsified droplets. Laboratory research needs to be conducted at concentrations and under conditions relevant to marine environments.

MODELING CAPABILITIES

Model improvements provide a better understanding of droplet formation in the turbulent plume above the wellhead. No model during the spill could predict droplet size distribution, which dictates rise times, dissolution, and biodegradation. Oil spill models now include the ability to simulate the rise of a buoyant oil plume from the seabed to the surface. Consideration of oil’s 3D movement permits the prediction of oil spreading through subsurface plumes. Our understanding of the near-surface oceanic layer and atmospheric boundary layer, including the influences of waves and wind, has also improved.

Oil spill modeling routines will likely be included in Earth system models, linking physical models with marine sediment and biogeochemical components. Advances in coupled nearfield-farfield dynamic modeling together with real-time, seven-day circulation forecasts allow for near-real-time tracking and forecasting of oil dynamics. This is the most promising approach for rapid evaluation of blowout predictions to support first response decisions.

* Overton, E.B., T.L. Wade, J.R. Radović, B.M. Meyer, M.S. Miles, and S.R. Larter. 2016. Chemical composition of Macondo and other crude oils and compositional alterations during oil spillsOceanography 29(3):50–63

Socolofsky, S.A., E.E. Adams, C.B. Paris, and D. Yang. 2016. How do oil, gas, and water interact near a subsea blowout? Oceanography 29(3):64–75

Passow, U., and R.D. Hetland. 2016. What happened to all of the oil? Oceanography 29(3):88–95

Özgökmen, T.M., E.P. Chassignet, C.N. Dawson, D. Dukhovskoy, G. Jacobs, J. Ledwell, O. Garcia-Pineda, I.R. MacDonald, S.L. Morey, M.J. Olascoaga, A.C. Poje, M. Reed, and J. Skancke. 2016. Over what area did the oil and gas spread during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill? Oceanography 29(3):96–107

John, V., C. Arnosti, J. Field, E. Kujawinski, and A. McCormick. 2016. The role of dispersants in oil spill remediation: Fundamental concepts, rationale for use, fate, and transport issues. Oceanography 29(3):108–117

Passow, U., and K. Ziervogel. 2016. Marine snow sedimented oil released during the Deepwater Horizon spill. Oceanography 29(3):118–125

Tarr, M.A., P. Zito, E.B. Overton, G.M. Olson, P.L. Adhikari, and C.M. Reddy. 2016. Weathering of oil spilled in the marine environment. Oceanography 29(3):126–135

Joye, S.B., S. Kleindienst, J.A. Gilbert, K.M. Handley, P. Weisenhorn, W.A. Overholt, and J.E. Kostka. 2016. Responses of microbial communities to hydrocarbon exposures. Oceanography 29(3):136–149

Rabalais, N.N., and R.E. Turner. 2016. Effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on coastal marshes and associated organisms. Oceanography 29(3):150–159

Murawski, S.A., J.W. Fleeger, W.F. Patterson III, C. Hu, K. Daly, I. Romero, and G.A. Toro-Farmer. 2016. How did the Deepwater Horizon oil spill affect coastal and continental shelf ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico? Oceanography 29(3):160–173

Buskey, E.J., H.K. White, and A.J. Esbaugh. 2016. Impact of oil spills on marine life in the Gulf of Mexico: Effects on plankton, nekton, and deep-sea benthos. Oceanography 29(3):174–181

Fisher, C.R., P.A. Montagna, and T.T. Sutton. 2016. How did the Deepwater Horizon oil spill impact deep-sea ecosystems? Oceanography 29(3):182–195

Dickey, R., and M. Huettel. 2016. Seafood and beach safety in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Oceanography 29(3):196–203

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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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

SeaGlide Workshop Engages Teachers and Students in Ocean Research Technology

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Christopher Hatten of Mildred Osborne Charter School contemplates the Arduino microcontroller board that he will later program to run his SeaGlide model. (Photo by Dinah Maygarden)

LADC-GEMM researchers from Oregon State University, the University of New Orleans, and Proteus Technologies explained how they use ocean gliders to collect temperature, pressure, and acoustic data such as sounds made by Gulf of Mexico whales and dolphins. The team guided the participants in constructing their own SeaGlide models assisted by eight Warren Easton Charter High School students with experience building the model gliders.

SeaGlide models are fully functioning miniature gliders that, like “real” gliders, collect data and take in and expel water to change their buoyancy and propel themselves forward. The kits are designed to guide users through the building process while teaching them the foundations behind the technology. The participants learned about basic electronics so they could solder and program the gliders’ circuit boards and built servo-driven engines that manage the gliders’ buoyancy and pitch.

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Julian DeRouen (far right), an advanced physics student from Warren Easton Charter High School, shows Fifth Ward Elementary’s Rhodie Simms and West St. John Elementary’s Angela Farnell how to assemble the electronics for their glider models. (Photo by Sara Heimlich)

Workshop participants consisted of 5th – 12th grade educators working in local schools and after-school programs. Most participants said that they thought the hands-on building experience was the most valuable part of the workshop and expressed an intention to incorporate what they learned into their school-year, after-school, or summer curriculums. Some expressed an interest in teaching the material for as long as three or four weeks, while others considered incorporating the gliders as a weekly activity throughout the entire school year. The majority of participants reported that the workshop made them feel more confident in their ability to teach overall science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) principles.

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Proteus Technologies’ Sean Griffin guides participants through the delicate process of soldering electronic parts onto the programmable computer chips that control the model gliders’ movements. (Photo by Kendal Leftwich)

This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center – Gulf Ecological Monitoring and Modeling (LADC-GEMM) 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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

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Hatten tests his finished model in a water tank. (Photo by Dinah Maygarden)

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The workshop used this glider, provided by Stephan Howden of the University of Southern Mississippi, to demonstrate the type of gliders used in LADC-GEMM research. (Photo by Sara Heimlich)

Study Quantifies Influence of Data Input on Confidence in Loop Current Forecasts

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Time evolution of the Sea Surface Height anomaly from AVISO altimetry data (color), with the Loop current edge, as defined by the 17 cm contour, in the Polynomial Chaos ensemble (black lines) and in the AVISO data (white line). Image provided by Iskandarani.

Researchers described in a recent study a surrogate-based technique to quantify the uncertainty in forecasting the oceanic circulation. The authors focused on the time period during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill when an extended Loop Current increased the risk of carrying the oil slick towards the eastern seaboard of the U.S.  The new methodology, which accounts explicitly for the inherent uncertainty in forecasts, may help improve the planning of emergency responses to weather and marine pollution events.  The authors’ paper was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans: Quantifying uncertainty in Gulf of Mexico forecasts stemming from uncertain initial conditions.

The accuracy and usefulness of material transport models depend on the quality of oceanic and atmospheric forecasts. However, the input data needed to run the forecast models are incomplete because observations are limited in space and time and may include measurement errors. The uncertainties in the model input lead to uncertainties in the model output. Useful forecasts should include a quantitative assessment of these uncertainties to better inform decisions such as evacuations or deploying resources. Probabilistic forecasts allow policy makers and emergency responders to consider a range of possible scenarios instead of only one best-guess scenario whose certainty is unclear.

The study focused on the period from May – June 2010, when the major concern was whether or not the Deepwater Horizon oil would be entrained in the Loop Current. “The Loop Current can act like a conveyor belt capable of moving water swiftly from the northern Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Strait,” explained study author Mohamed Iskandarani. “The Gulf Stream would then carry it quickly farther north.” Therefore, quantifying the uncertainty in Loop Current forecasts was a major goal of this study.

The researchers focused on the impact of misjudging the strength of a frontal eddy that was influencing the Loop Current’s path.  Using a polynomial chaos technique, the team ran a small ensemble of 49 scenarios (with varying frontal eddy strength) to build a cost-effective but faithful surrogate of the full model. They used this surrogate to determine how the model output changed with different input data. “The surrogate provides more accurate statistics than a traditional ensemble and can be analyzed to decide which input is most responsible for the largest portion of the uncertainty,” said Iskandarani. “This provides guidance for additional observations that can reduce the uncertainty in the model output most effectively.”

Simulations showed that a weak eddy would have kept the Loop Current on a trajectory to enter the spill area, potentially increasing the risk of oil spreading, while a stronger eddy would have separated the Loop Current from its trajectory before reaching the slick. “Uncertainties in the frontal eddy strength strongly affected the prediction of a Loop Current eddy detachment 15-30 days later,” explained Iskandarani. The study suggested that the predictability limit of the forecast was three weeks, and assimilating new observations is necessary to improve the forecast beyond that time.

The study’s findings have the potential to support an operational observing system for the Loop Current. “There would be great, two-way benefits from pairing an observing system with a probabilistic forecast model,” said Iskandarani. “The forecast model could be used to propagate these uncertainties forward in time to estimate the output uncertainties. The biggest contributors to the output uncertainties can be identified and targeted observations can be planned to reduce the uncertainties in the inputs.”

This study’s data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N77H1GNF.

The study’s authors are Mohamed Iskandarani, Matthieu Le Henaff, William Carlisle Thacker, Ashwanth Srinivasan, and Omar M. Knio.

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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). Other funding sources included the Office of Naval Research (Award N00014-101- 0498), the US Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Science, Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research (DE-SC0008789), the NOAA Quantitative Observing System Assessment Program (NA15OAR4320064), and the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Sea Grant Releases Brochure on Oil Spill Cleanup Technology Developments

3985The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is pleased to announce a new Sea Grant informational brochure that explores products currently available or in development to remove oil from water in future spills.

The brochure Emerging Surfactants, Sorbents, and Additives for Use in Oil Spill Clean-Up addresses surfactants inspired by microbes, finding treasure in unexpected places (everyday materials), and tiny materials with big impact (nanotechnology). These developments show promise; however, much testing, both in the lab and the field, and regulatory steps lay ahead before these products may be used during an oil spill.

The Sea Grant Oil Spill Outreach Team synthesizes peer-reviewed science for a broad range of general audiences, particularly those who live and work across the Gulf Coast. Sea Grant offers oil-spill-related 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.

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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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

CRGC Hosts Second Executive Leadership Training Module

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Larissa Graham of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium leads discussion about communicating oil spill science to diverse stakeholder groups during second module of “Planning for Resilient Communities” Executive Leadership Training. (Photo provided by CRGC)

The Consortium for Resilient Gulf Communities (CRGC), the Institute for Disaster Resilience and Humanitarian Affairs at George Washington University, and the Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy (DRLA) at Tulane University are hosting the second module of “Planning for Resilient Communities” Executive Leadership Training for the inaugural cohort of Southeastern Louisiana Disaster Resilience Leadership Fellows, who first convened in November 2016 for a five day workshop.

A Leadership Advisory Committee (LAC) led by Louisiana Lt. Governor Nungesser selected the 15 Fellows, who are being trained to provide a diverse breadth and depth of disaster resilience leadership capacity and coordination across multiple sectors and systems. Fellows comprise of emerging, local leaders representing Louisiana’s five coastal parishes.The Fellowship Program is an important component of CRGC’s community action planning and resilience building work.

Learn more about CRGC’s community action planning and resilience building work.»

CARTHE Hosts Poetry Competition Winners

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The winners of Piano Slam while touring RSMAS. (Photo courtesy of CARTHE)

Students participating in the Piano Slam contest created works of poetry inspired by a specific musical selection. The winners of this year’s contest and their families were invited to visit the University of Miami, where they toured the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, learned about CARTHE research, and rewatched their winning poetry performances.

Learn more here!

Study Characterizes Natural Deep Sea Seeps

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Scientists used two deep-sea autonomous underwater vehicles, the Eagle Ray and Mola Mola, to survey natural seeps near the Macondo wellhead site. Graphic provided by Arne Diercks.

Mississippi scientists surveyed natural seeps near the Macondo blowout using a high-resolution autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to inform biogeochemical studies about the post-Deepwater Horizon water column and seafloor. The researchers observed that the most distinctive physical features of the seepage systems were elongated depressions, pockmarks, and mud volcanoes/mounds. Visual imagery showed seep clusters on the periphery of salt domes and the presence of benthic communities and gas hydrate outcrops. These observations enhance current knowledge about seafloor morphology and how it relates to natural gas seepage processes. The scientists published their findings in Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography: Morpho-acoustic characterization of natural seepage features near the Macondo Wellhead (ECOGIG site OC26, Gulf of Mexico).

Tectonically-active salt bodies such as the Gulf of Mexico produce networks of faults and fractures that can act as natural pathways for hydrocarbon seepage. Researchers identified precise locations for naturally occurring hydrocarbon seeps and used acoustic and optical sensors to collect seafloor morphology, seafloor sediment reflectivity, and water column data as well as photographs and subsurface seismic images.

Mud volcanoes/mounds and pockmarks were prevalent in the northeast region of the study site, while elongated depressions characterized the southwest region. Subsurface images revealed trapped gas and chimney structures – which often represent direct pathways for hydrocarbons to enter the water column – beneath all three features, suggesting that the structures resulted from or were associated with seep processes.

Depressions and pockmarks were associated with areas that contained a high percentage of gassy soft sediments. The shape and structure of mud volcanos and mounds offered details about the activity, pressure, and viscosity involved in their creation.

Study co-author Arne R. Diercks commented that collecting data using AUVs was challenging. “Work with AUVs is limited by the data resolution needed, the size and depth of our target area, and the amount of energy we can take [to the seafloor] to run the instruments,” he explained. “My team managed to hit the target area on our first try. Getting a fully functional high-tech computer to the seafloor and autonomously navigate a preprogrammed path in complete darkness without a GPS and successfully collect data takes a great effort and a good team.”

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at R1.x132.137:0012.

The study’s authors are A. Conti, M. D’Emidio, L. Macelloni, C. Lutken, V. Asper, M. Woolsey, R. Jarnagin, A. Diercks, and R.C. Highsmith.

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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 Marie Curie Fellowship co-funded by the European Union under FP7-People — co-funding of Regional, National and International Programmes, GA n. 600407 and RITMARE Flagship Project.

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Virtual Lab Creates More “Wow” Moments in Science Discovery

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Miami Girl Scouts look at mahi-mahi embryos at an Ocean Kids outreach event. University of Miami students with the RECOVER consortium set up hands-on learning stations about the ocean. (Photo by RECOVER)

A child’s face lit up with wonder as she peered into a microscope for the first time and discovered a new world. Researchers at the Miami-based RECOVER consortium want experiences like this to happen more often for more students, so they designed and developed the RECOVER Virtual Lab. Now, scientists can engage students ages 8 and older anywhere anytime with an innovative lab experience that is accessible online and soon through the Apple App Store.

RECOVER Outreach lead Daniel DiNicola explained how the virtual lab came about, “In the consortium’s beginning, Martin Grosell [RECOVER Director] and I wanted to increase the public’s awareness and use of RECOVER’s visually-engaging experiments. We wanted something interactive that schools or public venues like museums could use.” The virtual lab is a consortium legacy product that will teach oil spill science for years to come and increases their classroom reach around the world.

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Visitors to the Virtual Lab see an experiment showing how the swimming performance of Mahi mahi are affected by different levels of oil exposure. The chart below the fish tracks performance. (Photo provided by RECOVER)

The lab’s development began in earnest using the same team that built the RECOVER website. “We liked that they already understood the research and that they work close by at the University of Miami’s main campus,” explained DiNicola. Development took about eight months and included storyboarding, wire framing, script development, filming, post production, data visualization, app design, and coding.

Internal beta testing for the virtual lab gave the RECOVER team feedback that improved science accuracy. “It was extremely beneficial to work alongside the scientists whose work is featured in the app,” said DiNicola. “The scientists offered insight and guidance that helped us refine the product and identify bugs.”

The pilot lesson, Fish Treadmills, is geared toward middle school, high school, and college students. Future lessons will include an experiment on visual acuity, fish embryonic and larval development, and social interactions. “All our lessons will feature one RECOVER graduate student acting as the virtual lab partner and explaining their research,” explained DiNicola. “We believe this is a great way for our students to practice valuable science communication skills as well as show their enthusiasm for their work.”

An evaluation component is built into the app to help determine and quantify the virtual lab’s success. Grade-specific quizzes available after every lesson will give the RECOVER team valuable insights into the lesson’s effectiveness. The demographic and location data collected by the quizzes will help identify use and participation trends. The RECOVER team hopes to publish their findings on the tool’s effectiveness using the evaluation data.

Grade-specific workbooks and transcripts for educators and students are available for download. Future plans for the virtual lab include more lessons for younger elementary students. For more information, visit the RECOVER website.

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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.

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Grad Student Girard Uses High-Definition Imagery to Assess Post-Spill Coral Recovery

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Fanny digitizes a high-definition image of an impacted coral colony to quantify impacts, growth, and recovery. (Photo by Cherisse DuPreez)

Deep-sea corals are important organisms that support a healthy and diverse deep-sea ecosystem. However, there is much we do not know about certain coral species, including how they grow, reproduce, or interact with other organisms. Fanny Girard’s research helps bridge that knowledge gap through her work on how disturbances such as oil spills affect deep-sea coral colonies and if those effects have lasting impacts. She hopes that her research will underline the need to protect these important deep-sea ecosystems.

Fanny is a Ph.D. student in Pennsylvania State University’s biology program and a GoMRI Scholar with the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) consortium.

Her Path

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Fanny takes photos of corals in the ROV control van onboard the E/V Nautilus. (Photo credit: Ocean Exploration Trust)

Fanny grew up on the Mediterranean coast of southern France and developed a special affinity for the ocean. Her desire to work on ocean related issues started when she was eleven years old, scuba diving with her mother. While pursuing a biology bachelor’s degree at Pierre and Marie Curie University, Fanny explored marine mammal ecology during internships studying whale populations in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence. Her graduate marine ecology studies at the University of Western Brittany included a course on the deep sea that inspired her to change direction. “Even though the deep sea is the largest ecosystem on earth, there is still so much to discover. That fact made me want to get involved in deep-sea research,” she said.

Fanny participated in various deep-sea research projects during her master’s work, including projects at the Institut Français de Recherche pour l’Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER) in France and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her master’s advisor introduced her to Pennsylvania State University’s Dr. Chuck Fisher, who offered her a Ph.D. position researching deep-sea corals for the ECOGIG project. “I had read about some of [Dr. Fisher’s work] in the Gulf of Mexico and was very excited about joining his lab,” said Fanny. “A lot of research still needs to be done to protect corals, and I really wanted to be part of this effort.”

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An impacted coral imaged in 2011 (left) and 2016 (right). Part of this coral has visibly recovered, but most of the colony was still heavily impacted six years post-spill. (Image by Fanny Girard)

Her Work

Natural mortality is a rare event among deep-sea octocorals, also known as sea fans, whichhave the potential to act as sentinels for anthropogenic impacts. Fanny uses high-definition imagery to assess the Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s long-term impacts on octocorals.

Since 2010, her group’s lab has been monitoring hundreds of coral colonies at oil exposed and control sites. The team collects high-definition images of the same corals every year using ROV-mounted camera equipment. Fanny digitizes the images and identifies visible impacts to coral branches, including excess mucus, bare skeletons, and secondary colonization by hydroids. She compares the annual images to assess recovery over time and identifies factors potentially influencing recovery, which helps determine if the spill had delayed or long-term effects on the coral’s health and growth.

Her analyses suggest that while lightly-impacted corals have mostly recovered, many colonies are still unhealthy with little recovery evident. While deep-sea octocorals naturally grow extremely slowly, the growth of the impacted corals was barely detectable after six years, and significantly-impacted corals have lost branches continuously since 2011. Fanny recently authored a peer-reviewed article providing evidence that brittle stars, which live on and have a symbiotic relationship with coral colonies, appeared to protect and facilitate coral recovery.

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Fanny stands in front of the ROV Global Explorer after a successful dive. She uses ROVs to image corals and collect different types of samples, including coral, water, and sediment. (Photo by Cherisse DuPreez)

The slow growth rates and abnormal branch loss that their team observed could indicate a lengthy post-oil spill recovery process. Fanny created a mathematical model that uses a matrix population model to project how many branches per coral colony will present as healthy, unhealthy, or colonized by hydroids and estimate recovery time. “The model suggests that it will take decades until all remaining branches appear healthy,” Fanny explained. “It will take another century until the lost branches have regrown.” She said that the long term image-based monitoring technique used in her research is an excellent tool to identify corals that suddenly become damaged or die, indicating an environmental disturbance.

Her Learning

Fanny experienced the most scientific growth while working with her advisors, Drs. Chuck Fisher and Iliana Baums, conducting field work aboard research cruises. Since beginning her Ph.D., she has participated in at least one research cruise each year and acted as chief scientist during a 2016 cruise. She says that the interdisciplinary nature of expeditions gave her a greater appreciation for other fields and introduced her to people who share her passion for the environment. The experiences taught her important skills for conducting research expeditions, such as coordinating between scientists, crew members, and ROV teams. “Making connections is extremely important for graduate students to find employers and identify future collaborations, but it can also be very difficult,” said Fanny. “I think being part of the GoMRI science community really facilitated that process.”

Her Future

Fanny plans to continue studying the deep sea and hopes her research can help protect and restore vulnerable ecosystems. She is considering post-doc opportunities, possibly in Europe, but is willing to travel anywhere for the right project. She advises students considering a scientific career to follow their passion, even if it seems difficult. As an undergraduate student, Fanny often expressed a desire to go on expeditions and study the ocean. However, most people dismissed her goals because of limited job opportunities and advised her to pursue a more mainstream profession. “I didn’t listen, and now I’m doing what I love,” she said. “I think if you are determined and love what you are doing, you will succeed.”

Praise for Fanny

Dr. Fisher said that Fanny has been an important asset to his team’s research since her first day. He explained that she developed the research methods used to demonstrate and quantify the brittle stars’ beneficial effects on oil-impacted coral’s recovery on her own. “Fanny is a pleasure to work with and has taken our research in new and exciting directions,” he said. “Most recently, she developed a mathematical model to predict the eventual fate of long-lived corals impacted by the oil spill.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Fanny Girard 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 ECOGIG website to learn more about their work.

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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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Study Finds Jellyfish Mucus May Enhance Microbial Oil Biodegradation

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Jellyfish with oil. Photo by Brad Gemmell

Scientists conducted laboratory experiments to examine the influence of moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) on crude oil aggregation and degradation. The researchers found that jellyfish swimming in a dispersed oil solution produced copious amounts of mucus which formed aggregates containing 26 times more oil than the surrounding water. Hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria density more than doubled and microbial oil degradation significantly increased compared to control treatments. These results suggest that jellyfish can aggregate dispersed oil droplets beyond water column concentrations and embed them in an environment that favors oil-degrading bacteria. The scientists published their findings in Marine Pollution Bulletin: Can gelatinous zooplankton influence the fate of crude oil in marine environments?

Gelatinous zooplankton excrete a nutrient-rich mucus that other organisms can use. Environmental stressors, such as an oil-spill plume interacting with zooplankton, exacerbate mucus excretion. The increased mucus may boost oil biodegradation by enhancing nitrogen and phosphorus availability, which bacteria need to degrade oil but are often limited during a spill event.

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Jellyfish swimming. Photo by Brad Gemmell

Researchers conducted ten trials with moon jellyfish collected from inshore northern Gulf of Mexico waters using seawater and an emulsified suspension of crude oil droplets. Experiments with jellyfish swimming in the presence of crude oil used 100 uL/L oil concentration to simulate a sub-surface oil plume (a concentration based on Reddy, et al., 2012 who measured the xylene fraction above the Macondo well and found up to 80 uL/L of total crude oil). The team evaluated the effects of jellyfish mucus on bacterial growth and oil biodegradation using batch culture experiments with 1000 uL/L oil concentration (based on prior work with bacteria and oil Bacosa, et al., 2012). Then they analyzed images of the mucus aggregates the jellyfish created and shed to evaluate effects on bacterial growth and oil biodegradation.

Jellyfish in control seawater treatments did not produce mucus, while jellyfish in crude oil treatments produced mucus in less than one minute after oil was introduced, and this mucus may have inhibited the jellyfish ingesting or absorbing oil. The amount of oil that the mucus contained correlated linearly with the size of the mucus aggregates.  The density of oil-degrading bacteria more than tripled after 7 days compared to the non-mucus control, and n-alkane hydrocarbons decreased 33% after 14 days. The authors hypothesized that the increased nitrogen availability due to jellyfish mucus could explain the higher microbial oil degradation rate.

The results suggest that the bacterial response to crude oil and jellyfish mucus may have important implications for oil spill fate in areas where zooplankton are abundant. The researchers propose larger-scale studies be carried out to better understand these processes under more realistic conditions.

GoMRI data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N71834JF.

The study’s authors are Brad J. Gemmell, Hernando P. Bacosa, Zhanfei Liu, and Edward J. Buskey.

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This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies II (DROPPS 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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

C-IMAGE’s The Loop Podcast Highlights Deepwater Horizon’s Risks to Fish

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Photo Courtesy of C-IMAGE

The podcast’s most recent episode features Mote Marine Laboratory’s Dana Wetzel and Kevan Main, who analyze how fish’s bodies recover after exposure to small oil doses in their food, water, or seafloor sediments. Wetzel, Main, and Matt Resley discuss how understanding the risks fish have during oil spills can assist oil spill response decisions.

Read the full story and listen to the episode here!

Study Finds Corexit Triggers EPS Production, Enhancing Marine Snow Formation

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Justine van Eenennaam working in the lab of Environmental Technology at Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands. Photo provided by van Eenennaam.

Scientists observed in laboratory experiments the formation of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS, a natural microorganism excretion) when phytoplankton and their associated bacteria were exposed to Corexit dispersant. The researchers observed that Corexit can trigger microorganisms in the phytoplankton community to produce EPS, even without oil present. EPS production was induced within days, and energy drawn from the phytoplankton further enhanced the bacteria’s EPS formation. Phytoplankton with no bacteria present did not produce EPS. The team suggested that spill response decision makers should account for this mechanism’s potential to increase marine snow formation when considering chemical dispersants. The scientists published their findings in Marine Pollution Bulletin: Oil spill dispersants induce formation of marine snow by phytoplankton-associated bacteria.

Marine snow occurs when particles in the water column aggregate, with EPS holding them together, and then sink to the sea floor. Past research suggests that chemical dispersants applied during the Deepwater Horizon spill in the presence of phytoplankton triggered an unprecedented amount of marine snow formation. Researchers in this study prepared various combinations of phytoplankton (Dunaliella tertiolecta and Phaeodactylum tricornutum), their associated bacteria, and Corexit 9500 (0.5 mL/L, an anticipated concentration level in the upper centimeters of the water column after surface application, US EPA, 1995). The team then weighed, visually characterized, and measured the protein and carbohydrate content of resulting EPS flocs.

Study author Justine van Eenennaam explained their results, “The EPS contained protein and polysaccharides, and the composition varied with the species of phytoplankton. The sticky EPS can play an important role in aggregating the ingredients of marine snow, including dispersed oil and suspended particles, into sinking flocks.”

The researchers said that the results demonstrate that a large application of dispersants during a phytoplankton bloom will likely trigger a MOSSFA (Marine Oil Snow Sedimentation and Flocculent Accumulation) event, similar to what was observed during Deepwater Horizon. “Combined with enhanced availability of suspended particles due to flushing of the Mississippi River, it is possible dispersant application may have made the outcome for the benthic ecosystem worse than anticipated,” said van Eenennaam.

The team continues their research on the effects of oiled marine snow on the benthic community, which is at the bottom of the food chain. “Indications are that marine snow hampers oil biodegradation, implying we might have to deal with the aftershocks of this spill for quite some time,” said van Eenennaam.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N78C9T75.

The study’s authors are Justine S. van Eenennaam, Yuzhu Wei, Katja C.F. Grolle, Edwin M. Foekema, and Albertinka J. Murk.

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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 Wageningen UR TripleP@Sea innovation Program (KB-14-007).

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Grad Student Dykstra Sees Global Applications for Local Ocean Circulation Maps

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Steve releases a drifter at Main Pass (Mobile Bay), Alabama, to study the surface tidal plume. (Provided by Steve Dykstra)

When Deepwater Horizon oil approached coastal environments, it was unclear how river water entering the Gulf of Mexico would affect the oil’s transport and fate. Steve Dykstra uses drifters and ship-deployed sensors to study how freshwater plumes disperse in the coastal environment over different seafloor topography. He plans to someday use his findings and experience to help inform coastal resource management in developing countries.

Steve Dykstra is a Ph.D. student at the University of South Alabama’s marine science program and a GoMRI Scholar with the Consortium for Oil Spill Exposure Pathways in Coastal River-Dominated Ecosystems (CONCORDE).

His Path

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Steve explores the Mobile-Tensaw Delta to better understand how the area’s fluvial-tidal flow affects coastal circulation. (Provided by Steve Dykstra)

Steve became interested in science while exploring the forests, lakes, and wetlands around his childhood home near Lake Michigan. He was fascinated by nature’s complexity and developed a particular interest in river and stream morphology, which studies the form, function, and interactions of these waters with the surrounding landscape. As he grew up, Steve became more knowledgeable about morphology by frequenting sand dunes and learning how to redirect or “pirate” streams. He completed a bachelor’s degree in science at Calvin College in 2008 and decided his next steps would be less conventional.

Steve worked as a naturalist in Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park and Chugach National Forest, where he led tourist excursions and taught visitors about the area’s geology, ecology, and wildlife. Next, he volunteered for the NGO Help for the Massai, distributing food and helping run immunization clinics in Tanzania near Serengeti National Park in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. “Working with the indigenous Massai people, I got a first-hand look at the developing world,” he said. “It taught me how to work cross-culturally.”

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Steve prepares the microprocessors he constructed to go inside his drifters. (Provided by Steve Dykstra)

Steve completed an environmental science master’s degree at Taylor University and interned with Dynamic Solutions International’s watershed management program in Vietnam. He worked in watershed management in Tajikistan through the Global Partners organization. Security issues sent him back to the United States, and he decided to pursue a long-time desire – obtaining his Ph.D. Steve found an opportunity to research freshwater discharge’s influence on the coastal environment with Dr. Brian Dzwonkowski and joined his team at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL).

A personal motivator for Steve is a calling to Biblical stewardship. “As a Christian, I believe I’m called to care for and try to reconcile the world around me,” he said. “I think it’s something that a lot of Christians overlook, but stewardship includes the natural environment that we have.”

 

His Work

Steve works in the Mobile Bay delta, where tides influence river flow and level as it moves into the coastal area. As freshwater enters saltier waters, it remains on the surface and forms a plume that spreads over a wide area. However, changes in the coastal geomorphology can alter flow dynamics, salinity, and the freshwater’s movement into the Gulf. “Narrow or wide or deep inlets change the way water flows,” explained Steve. “As the geomorphology changes – either naturally or anthropogenically –it changes the flow dynamics, which inadvertently change how much salinity goes into the Bay and how the freshwater moves out into the Gulf.”

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Steve prepares a drifter for release. (Provided by Steve Dykstra)

Steve’s component of the research focuses on Main Pass, Mobile Bay, where he helps build and release GPS-equipped drifters fitted with temperature and salinity sensors to study how fast they move, where they move, and how they spread out and disperse. He takes simultaneous measurements aboard a research vessel using conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) sensors and a Laser In-Situ Scattering and Transmissometry (LISST) instrument, which measures sediment grain sizes and concentrations in the water. He compares these measurements with the drifter readings to determine the plume’s movement relative to the surrounding environment, what it transports, and how it mixes with Gulf waters.

Steve’s observations will help validate a CONCORDE-developed circulation model reflecting the exposure pathways and mechanisms of Deepwater Horizon oil. His work will inform the land-to-sea portion of the model and compliment other researchers’ work in offshore regions. “It’s easier to predict how oil will function when it’s moving around in the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s more difficult to figure out how it will interact with the complex shoreline,” he said. “I’m taking observations to help inform and change the model to better reflect the system that we’re actually working with.”

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Steve and his advisor, Dr. Brian Dzwonkowski, release small drifters in the Grand Bay National Estuary Research Reserve. (Provided by Steve Dykstra)

His Learning

One of the greatest benefits from Steve’s GoMRI research has been the opportunity to take the time to delve into the materials and research. His past travels left him little opportunity to get to know a single system. “I often had to skip over some good insights and get more of the theory behind something instead of really learning one particular local environment. I think it’s been helpful to finally do and understand that,” he said. Steve’s GoMRI work also introduced him to marine science. Prior to beginning his Ph.D., Steve had never taken a marine science class and had little experience working in coastal or marine environments. He credits his research as the source of everything he currently knows about marine environments.

Steve also frequently works with his secondary advisor Kelly Dorgan, a sediment ecologist with the ACER consortium. Interacting with researchers from different projects helps him see differences in how consortia operate and coordinate when conducting research in same region. Steve meets and interacts with scientists in many disciplines and observes how they conduct their research and interact with other investigators. Steve reflected, “I’ve been able to learn quite a bit about discerning who to learn from and what questions to ask which researchers.”

His Future

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Steve and Dr. Dzwonkowski (white boat) follow drifters to compare their tracks with a dye release in Grand Bay National Estuary Research Reserve. (Photo by Robert Moorhead)

Steve is considering a post-doctoral position after graduation and becoming further established in his field. However, his long-term goal is to go back overseas and conduct research in resources management for developing countries, where he believes his education and experience in streams and coastal environments could help. “I’d like to help countries that are trying to manage their resources, particularly in deciding how to balance development and conservation. Whether I’m doing consulting work or conducting research with a local university, I’d like to continue to do some of the relief work I was doing previously but with further expertise.”

Steve advises that students considering a science career should start broad, learning a wide range of foundational material, and then specialize through research and internship opportunities. “Don’t do an internship because it looks good on your resume but chase your dreams and allow yourself to fail in that process,” he said. He hints that those opportunities might even offer a way to avoid debt after graduating, “Be willing to take things slower and work jobs that you may not have initially considered or move to places with better financial opportunities. I’ve been able to go through debt-free, not because I had parents assisting me, but because I worked hard and moved to places that I’d never been before.”

Praise for Steve

Dzwonkowski said that Steve has shown impressive ambition and an industrious nature throughout his graduate career. He said that Steve seeks ways to improve his grant-writing skills, hunting down external research funds to support his graduate career through student travel opportunities and prestigious fellowship opportunities. “Given his early and immediate interest in proposal writing, I am positive that Steve will be successful obtaining future research funds,” he said.

Dzwonkowski also highlighted Steve’s contributions to education and outreach efforts. DISL adapted Arduino computing components for their summer research, and Steve helped train students to wire and program the components and discussed how they could use the low-cost technology in their own research. He is preparing to help build Arduino-based technical skills into K-12 lesson plans. “He has a very positive influence on the people around him,” said Dzwonkowski. “He has been a great addition to DISL, and I look forward to seeing him develop along what I know will be a highly impactful career path. I believe he will make a difference in many peoples’ lives over the course of his career.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Steve Dykstra 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 CONCORDE website to learn more about their work.

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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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Using Complementary Simulations to Improve Oil Tracking under Hurricane Conditions

4041a

A close up of major equipment used in the experimental set up in the University of Miami ASSIST facility. The equipment includes (left to right) the wave slope gauge, the Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV)/bubble imager, and spray shadowgraph. (Photo by Will Drennan)

Interactions among wind, waves, and upper-ocean currents are essential factors in predicting oil slick transport and fate. These complex interactions, however, make capturing their dynamics in simulations challenging, especially when turbulent weather conditions are present.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative recently awarded Dr. William Drennan a grant to study how wind-wave-current interactions affect oil transport under significant wave influences, such as hurricanes. The researchers are taking a two-step approach that combines model simulations with parameters derived from laboratory wave tank experiments. Their goal is to improve our ability to monitor and contain oil in the event another spill occurs under high-turbulence conditions.

“The more oil that gets away from us, the more oil that ends up in the ecosystem somewhere,” said Drennan. “Our goal is that, if there is another spill like this, we will be able to better prepare and make the clean up more efficient. If there’s a big storm coming, we need to modify how we react to the spill and capture the oil that will escape from the spill area as a result.”

4041b

The ASIST flume experiment while underway, using the laser light for the slope gauge and the backlight of the PIV. (Photo by Will Drennan)

Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Lian Shen is simulating wind, waves, and ocean currents using a suite of state-of-the-art wave-resolving models to visualize the spray, bubbles, and oil transport pathways that result from breaking waves under various sea conditions. The models will help capture the processes essential to ocean wave-field dynamics so that researchers can observe where oil goes in simulations.

The model’s simulations need to be realistic so that results represent oil’s behavior in the ocean.

Drennan is simulating breaking waves using unique and advanced wind-wave tank facilities in the University of Miami’s Surge-Structure-Atmosphere Interaction (SUSTAIN) laboratory. Observations from experiments in the tanks will help him map the wave topography in great detail and inform and calibrate Shen’s models. Drennan is measuring spray and bubble behavior under various wind and wave conditions (including a Category 5 hurricane) with and without oil present. He is incorporating these laboratory measurements into the models to provide a detailed 3D description – a necessary dataset to construct the wind, waves, and currents field and develop a deeper understanding of their physical processes.

Drennan reflected on the project’s motivations for focusing on transport under significant wave influences, “As long as we’re going to be producing oil in areas where there are hurricanes or tropical storms, we need to understand how to respond to a potential disaster under those conditions. It’s interdisciplinary, because the consequences of a disaster affect everything from marine life to fisheries to coastal resilience. If we can prepare and respond better to a disaster, then we can avoid some of the really negative consequences.”

The project’s researchers are William Drennan at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and Lian Shen at the University of Minnesota Department of Mechanical Engineering. Their project is Investigation of Oil Spill Transport in a Coupled Wind-Wave Current Environment Using Simulation and Laboratory Studies.

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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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Study Characterizes River Plume Mixing Processes in Coastal Waters

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Kimberly Huguenard at the University of Maine uses a microstructure profiler to measure turbulence and mixing in coastal waters. Photo provided by Holland Havercamp of the University of Maine.

Scientists assessed the behavior of a Florida river plume to determine how it might influence the transport and dispersion of surface oil near coastal regions. The researchers found that the near-surface measurements of dissipation at the front’s bounding edge were four orders of magnitude larger than the environment beneath. Frontal processes accounted for approximately 60% of the overall mixing of river plume water observed near the coast. An energetic wake trailed the frontal edge, which could potentially increase frontal and plume mixing and could push surface-trapped oil downward. The researchers published their findings in Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans: On the nature of the frontal zone of the Choctawhatchee Bay plume in the Gulf of Mexico.

River plumes are common transport pathways between estuaries and coastal regions. Mixing inside these plumes controls where estuarine material is deposited into coastal waters. Because the highest social-economic impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was on coastal communities, it is important to represent coastal processes in oil transport model predictions.

This study’s researchers used acoustic and microstructure profiling to collect and analyze the velocity, density, wind speed, and dissipation rates (which help determine small-scale turbulence) of a river plume in Destin, Florida’s Choctawhatchee Bay. The team used a satellite image of the area and synthetic aperture radar in situ measurements to compare with a model simulation of the plume’s frontal footprint.

The researchers observed a turbulent bore head (the leading edge of the plume forms a wave or waves that travel against the current), which detached from the plume and generated instabilities in the trailing wake. The bore head’s detachment is significant because it can expand the frontal zone and evolve into internal waves.  The observed plume footprint was much larger than predicted by the model.

This study demonstrates that energetic frontal zones influence mixing, plume spreading, and internal wave generation. “If ambient coastal currents oppose the direction of the plume, as observed in our study, a very active frontal zone is formed,” explained study author Kimberly Huguenard. “Understanding that this occurs in nature provides scientists with the opportunity to find new ways to include these processes in their models, improving the accuracy oil spill transport predictions.”

This study was the first to quantify the plume’s frontal zone mixing using near-surface microstructure observations rather than simplified parameterizations.

Researchers used the Rockland Scientific Vertical Microstructure Profiler in a new, uprising profiling mode to quantify mixing in the Choctawhatchee Bay river plume. The upriser mode resolves turbulence in the upper meters of the water column, otherwise truncated in the traditional downward deployment. (Filmed by Nathan Laxague and edited by Dave Ortiz-Suslow under the advisement of Brain Haus of the University of Miami and CARTHE)

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi: 10.7266/N73776Q9.

The study’s authors are K.D. Huguenard, D.J. Bogucki, D.G. Ortiz-Suslow, N.J.M. Laxague, J.H. MacMahan, T.M. Ozgokmen, B.K. Haus, A.J.H.M. Reniers, J. Hargrove, A.V. Soloviev, and H. Graber.

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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 (CARTHE) and the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science for their project Monitoring of Oil Spill and Seepage Using Satellite Radars.

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

DROPPS Participates in UTMSI’s Women in Marine Science Day

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Photo by DROPPS

Team members recently taught 8th grade girls about plankton and how dispersed oil affects them for the University of Texas Marine Science Institute’s Women in Marine Science Day event. They projected live plankton on a screen to demonstrate how they move and then guided the girls in making their own plankton and discussing how they would fare in dispersed and undispersed oil. See photos from the event here!

ACER Tool Talk Series Highlights SCAT Maps

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A SCAT map of a portion of the Chandeleur Islands which are the focus of ACER’ research. Credit: https://gomex.erma.noaa.gov/erma.html

A Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique (SCAT) map indicates the degree of oiling at a geographic location. SCAT teams survey shorelines to collect important data that will help them analyze the amount of necessary cleanup, choose cleanup techniques, and monitor clean up effectiveness.

Read the full story here.

Screenscope Releases Trailer for “Dispatches from the Gulf-2″

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Credit: Screenscope

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative is pleased to announce the release of the Screenscope film production company’s trailer for “Dispatches from the Gulf-2.”

This second film continues the remarkable stories about the global scientific team studying the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The movie, narrated by Matt Damon, will air later this year as a new episode of the award-winning Journey to Planet Earth Series.

The first “Dispatches from the Gulf” documentary received industry recognition with an Emmy for best photography and the Blue Whale Award at the 2016 Blue Ocean Film Festival.  Using material from this first documentary, producers Hal and Marylyn Weiner created 50 video shorts that include film highlights, interviews with scientists and graduate students, and more. An associated Educators Guide provides detailed descriptions and keywords for each video and can be used in classroom curriculum and in other educational efforts.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, in response to the 2010 oil spill, initiated an unprecedented response effort and mobilized the largest, coordinated scientific research endeavor around an ocean-related event in history.  For additional information about the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative:

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“Dispatches from the Gulf” is made possible in part by a grant from The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). 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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Five-Year Study Finds Deepwater Horizon Negatively Affected Periwinkle Snails

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Researchers sampling periwinkle snail density and size along a Louisiana marsh shoreline. Photo by Scott Zengel.

Scientists conducted a meta-analysis on marsh periwinkle snails using data spanning five years to investigate how the oil spill affected them over time. The researchers found that snails from heavily-oiled sites exhibited decreased density and shell length. There were greater relative proportions of small adults and fewer large adults in heavily-oiled sites compared to reference sites. These results suggest that the Deepwater Horizon spill suppressed periwinkle populations and that recovery was slowed or incomplete. The researchers published their findings in Marine Ecology Progress Series: Five years of Deepwater Horizon oil spill effects on marsh periwinkles Littoraria irrorata.

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Oil covered dead periwinkle snails found at a Louisiana marsh site. Photo by Scott Zengel.

Periwinkle snails are an abundant salt marsh species that influence estuarine food webs and ecosystem productivity. Negative impacts on periwinkles could affect other marsh species and the overall marsh structure and function. Researchers synthesized published and unpublished data from 2010 – 2015, comparing northern Gulf of Mexico periwinkle populations in heavily-oiled seaward marsh edges (~0-6 meters from the shoreline), the oiled marsh interior (~6-15 meters from the shoreline), and the marsh interior with light-to-no visible oiling (>15 meters from the heavily oiled shoreline).

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Researchers estimate periwinkle density using quadrats. Photo by Scott Zengel.

The population densities of periwinkles declined an average of 73% at heavily-oiled sites, with moderate recovery that leveled off and remained below reference values during 2013 – 2015. Population density declined in the oiled-marsh interior areas from 2010 – 2011, but recovered by 2012. There were no observed effects to population density in the marsh interior with light-to-no visible oiling. Periwinkle shell lengths shortened in 2011 at heavily-oiled sites, then appeared recovered by 2012, but exhibited a declining trend through 2015. Shell sizes in the marsh interior areas were unaffected. The differences in size distribution among oiled and reference sites suggest low recruitment and/or poor survival of early recruits.

The researchers proposed that periwinkle population recovery may take several years due to effects from residual oil in marsh soils, ongoing recovery of the marsh vegetation, and the time required for snail recruitment, immigration, and subsequent growth to rebuild populations. Their study emphasizes the need for continued, long-term population monitoring.

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One of the field teams takes a break during sampling. Photo by Scott Zengel.

NRDA data used in this paper are publicly available at https://dwhdiver.orr.noaa.gov. GoMRI data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi: 10.7266/N7FF3Q9S. Data from McCall & Pennings (2012) are publicly available at http://dx.doi.org/10.6073/pasta/8da296e41363a8fcb931d44a71264107.

The study’s authors are Scott Zengel, Jennifer Weaver, Steven C. Pennings, Brian Silliman, Donald R. Deis, Clay L. Montague, Nicolle Rutherford, Zachary Nixon, and Andrew R. Zimmerman.

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This research was made possible in part by grants from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Florida Institute of Oceanography for the project Biodegradation of the Deepwater Horizon Oil in Florida Marsh Ecosystems and Exploration of Novel Passive Remediation Strategies and the Louisiana State University Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences for the projects Accelerating Recovery after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Response of the Plant-Microbial-Benthic Ecosystem to Mitigation Strategies Promoting Wetland Remediation and Resilience and Long-Term Impact, Recovery and Resilience: Wetland plant-microbial-benthic ecosystem responses to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and mitigation strategies promoting sustainability. Other funding sources include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the State of Louisiana, and the National Science Foundation.

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Sea Grant Releases Brochure on Oil FAQs

Sea Grant Releases Brochure on Oil FAQs

Click image to download PDF…

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is pleased to announce a new Sea Grant informational brochure that explores basic aspects of oil as a natural resource and oil spills.  The Sea Grant Oil Spill Outreach Team synthesizes peer-reviewed science for a broad range of general audiences, particularly those who live and work across the Gulf Coast.

The brochure Frequently Asked Questions Oil Edition addresses questions such as What is oil? How is oil released into the environment? Who produces and uses oil? Does oil break down? How do scientists determine the origin of oil found in the environment?

Sea Grant offers oil-spill-related 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.

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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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

DROPPS Hosts and Participates in Community Response Meeting

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Photo by DROPPS

The quarterly South Texas Coastal Zone Area Committee Meeting is an opportunity for response community members to discuss recent activities and update area contingency plans. DROPPS’ Zhanfei Liu presented on petroleum hydrocarbon analysis and Sarah Cosgrove and Lalitha Asirvadam volunteered to participate in future workgroups, hoping to continue bridging the gap between science and response.

Read more about the event here.

Grad Student Diamante Investigates How PAHs Affect Fish Development

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Graciel prepares zebrafish embryo samples for RNA extractions to assess gene regulation after PAH exposure. (Provided by Graciel Diamante)

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can disrupt important signaling pathways that transcribe genes during fish’s early embryonic development, which could cause malformations. Graciel Diamante is conducting laboratory experiments with fish embryos to understand how weathered PAHs affect fish development. She is also finding that her work demonstrates the importance of perseverance, giving back, and collaborating within a diverse scientific community.

Graciel is an environmental toxicology Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) and a GoMRI Scholar with the RECOVER consortium.

Her Path

Graciel began pursuing biology as an undergraduate at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) after her enthusiastic biology professor sparked her interest in the field. She explored different research programs and worked in several labs and summer research opportunities to narrow her interests. She discovered a passion for toxicology while working on a University of California, Los Angeles summer project researching how saporin – a ribosome-inactivating protein found in soapwort plants – causes toxicity.

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Graciel (left) and Norma Menjivar-Cervantes, an undergraduate at UCR, assess zebrafish embryos after PAH exposure. (Provided by Graciel Diamante)

She completed her undergraduate degree in cell and molecular biology and entered UCR’s environmental toxicology Ph.D. program. There, her interest in understanding how different compounds affect fish cardiovascular development led her to her advisor, Dr. Daniel Schlenk. Although Dr. Schlenk did not have an open position when Graciel arrived, he was impressed by her persistence and took her on as a graduate teaching assistant. She also conducted laboratory research while attending classes until Schlenk’s lab began its collaboration with the RECOVER consortium. “When the GoMRI grant came in, she was my first choice to put on as graduate student support,” said Schlenk.

Her Work

Chrysene is one of the most persistent PAHs in the water column following an oil spill and can produce oxygenated derivatives such as 2- and 6-hydroxychrysene after undergoing photo-oxidation. These hydroxylated compounds can disrupt important estrogen-signaling pathways during embryonic development, but little else is known about their toxicity. Graciel investigates the signaling pathways involved in hydroxylated PAH toxicity using zebrafish as a model for vertebrate development.

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Graciel (left) and undergraduate Norma Menjivar-Cervantes use a miscroscope to assess the impacts of chemical exposure to zebrafish embryos. (Provided by Graciel Diamante)

Graciel prepares zebrafish embryos so that they are all the same developmental stage and conducts 74-hour exposure experiments using different concentrations of 2-hydroxychrysene and 6-hydroxychrysene (0.5 μM to 10 μM). Using real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), she analyzes the embryos to assess the expression of certain genes that these chemicals can potentially alter and evaluate the occurrence of deformities compared to controls. She also determines the number of dead and alive embryos during the experiments.

She is observing that, unlike the parent compound chrysene, 2-hydroxychrysene and 6-hydroxychrysene exposures of at least 0.5 μM and 3 μM, respectively, increase developmental defects including cardiac, circulatory, and eye defects. The 6-hydroxychrysene concentrations of at least 3 μM decrease embryo survival, while 2-hydroxychrysene concentrations do not. Next, Graciel will conduct the same experiment using mahi mahi embryos and determine if the same effects are observed across fish species. She will use lower hydroxylated PAH concentrations and evaluate embryos for the deformities and altered transcripts found in the zebrafish experiments.

Her Learning

Graciel is an active mentor in the UCR’s Research in Science and Engineering (RISE) undergraduate program, which helps students from diverse backgrounds get involved with research. While she was an undergraduate student participating in CSUN’s Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement program and later its Minority Access to Research Careers program, Graciel saw first-hand the impact such programs can have on a student’s professional growth. “As a mentor, I want teach them about a project’s importance, experimental design, and the ups and down of research – things you can’t learn in a classroom setting,” she said. “I want them to find what it is that inspires them, so that they can find a career they truly enjoy.”

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Graciel (left) with RECOVER scientists Dr. Daniel Schlenk (center) and Dr. Elvis Xu (right). (Provided by Graciel Diamante)

Graciel said that working in Schlenk’s lab during her GoMRI research taught her that science is a continual learning process. “Just as you uncover the answer to one question, another question arises.” She also learned that science pushes forward collaborations. “The importance of networking became even clearer when I joined the GoMRI community,” she said. “The RECOVER group has great scientists as well as some of the nicest people I have met.”

Living and attending school in a culturally mixed environment has helped Graciel meet and work with individuals from unique backgrounds. Cultural diversity has had an important impact on her personal maturity and shown her the importance of a diverse scientific community. She explained, “Research needs different ideas and is highly dependent on creativity and critical thinking. There is no better way to obtain this than from diverse individuals.”

Her Future

Graciel hopes to attain a post-doctoral position, continue researching fish cardiac development and physiology, and combine toxicology and developmental biology to investigate contaminants and their specific mode of action. Ultimately, she wants to become a professor and foster students’ curiosity about science and promote higher education. She suggests that students considering a science career get involved in a research project to help focus their ambitions. Gaining research experience and working in multiple labs as an undergraduate helped Graciel prepare for graduate work and her overall scientific career. “These experiences helped me figure out what my interests were and if this was the career I wanted to pursue,” she said.

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Graciel and the RECOVER team pose for a photo at a consortium All-Hands Meeting. (Photo by Daniel DiNicola)

Praise for Graciel

Schlenk said Graciel displayed a positive attitude and persevered in the face of setbacks. He explained that when the project began, it appeared that Graciel was seeing very significant effects on the fish. However, she discovered that her results were caused by a pathogen infestation in the animal model, not the chemicals she was testing. Rather than giving up, Graciel quickly began preparations to repeat the experiment. “She spent almost a whole year on her project and had to repeat everything all over again using a different animal,” he said. “So many students say ‘tell me the easy way out’ and she’s never ever asked that. It’s been neat to see her develop through this project so that she knows now what studies to do and what end points to look at. It’s very encouraging for me as a mentor.”

Schlenk explained that Graciel is a first-generation college student and that her passion for education and women in science is evident in mentoring female undergraduate students. Schlenk believes that the students’ increasing excitement about science and research is due to Graciel’s mentorship. “It’s wonderful that she’s able to touch students’ lives,” he said. “I think she’s so grateful for the opportunities she’s had that she wants to show her gratitude by doing the same things for younger students – kind of passing the torch.”

Schlenk also discussed Graciel’s personal interactions in the lab, describing her as “the mom in the group,” helping out and taking care of issues without complaint. He concluded, “She’s just a wonderful, caring person who wants to do the right thing. It’s so refreshing.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Graciel Diamante 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.

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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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Study Demonstrates Sinking Marine Particles Help Remove PAHs from Water Column

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Sediment traps are readied for sampling on the research vessel’s deck. (Provided by Puspa Adhikari)

Researchers measured polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations in water collected near the Deepwater Horizon site to understand how sinking particles, such as marine snow, influence the residence time of PAHs in the upper ocean.  They observed that dissolved PAH concentrations had decreased by over 1,000 times compared with concentrations reported during and immediately after the oil spill. They found that sinking particulate matter can remove up to 7% of particle-bound PAHs daily in the Gulf of Mexico. The researchers published their findings in Marine Chemistry: Vertical fluxes of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

 

 

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Researchers recover a surface drifting buoy after a three-day deployment. (Provided by Puspa Adhikari)

Crude oils are composed of thousands of chemical compounds, and PAHs are a class of these compounds that cause health concerns in an oil spill. PAHs enter the Gulf of Mexico marine environment year round via oil seeps and spills, land runoff, river discharges, coastal erosion, and atmospheric deposition. These hydrophobic compounds, which do not dissolve quickly in water, attach to marine particles and are deposited to sediments. While studies have investigated the fate and transport of Deepwater Horizon oil in the northern Gulf of Mexico, this study is the first to address the residence times of PAHs in the water column.

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A buoy with an array of three sediment traps attached below it at 150, 250, and 350 m depth was deployed and floated freely in the Gulf of Mexico for three days. (Provided by Puspa Adhikari)

Researchers collected water samples (for dissolved PAHs), suspended particles (for particulate PAHs) and settling particles (for sinking PAHs). The team used sediment traps to collect sinking particles and pumps to filter water for suspended particles. They characterized PAH distribution, the removal mechanisms, and residence times.

Vertical profile samples exhibited a general pattern of low PAH concentrations at 100 m depth, elevated concentrations at 150 m depth, and then decreased or constant concentrations at further depths. Vertical profiles showed maximum particulate PAH concentrations at 100 m that remained similar throughout the water column to 350 m depth. Lower and middle molecular weight PAHs – which attach to marine particles more easily – dominated sinking PAH concentrations, confirming marine particles’ role in vertical PAH fluxes. The team determined that if vertical sinking was regarded as the only removal pathway, PAHs’ would exhibit residence times of about 15 days in the upper euphotic zone.

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A researcher deploys a large-volume in situ pump to filter hundreds of liters of water and collect suspended particles in the upper 100 – 350 m of the water column. (Provided by Puspa Adhikari)

“Our results showed that the sinking particles including marine snow can efficiently transport PAHs from the surface oceans to the seafloor, and it is a key factor controlling PAHs’ removal from the upper oceans,” said study author Puspa Adhikari. This study is the first to measure particulate PAH concentrations and sinking PAH fluxes simultaneously using large-volume in situ pumps and drifting sediment traps, which allowed researchers to directly estimate particulate PAH loss due to vertical fluxes and better understand vertical sinking’s role in open-ocean PAH cycling.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi: 10.7266/N7N29TXF.

The study’s authors are Puspa L. Adhikari, Kanchan Maiti, and Edward B. Overton.

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4092e

A microscopic image of sinking particles captured in the sediment trap at 150 m depth in the northern Gulf of Mexico. (Provided by Puspa Adhikari)

This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to Louisiana State University for their project Investigating the Potential Ecological Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the Biologically-mediated Mechanisms of Removal of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs).

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Building a Rapid Response System for Predicting Water Column Processes and Oil Fate

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Senior research associate Jodi Brewster (left) and Ph.D. candidate Johna Rudzin (right) deploying a CTD with Nanson bottles off the University of Miami R/V F. G. Walton Smith, a ship in the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System fleet. (Photo by Jodi Brewster).

As the Deepwater Horizon oil spill unfolded, there were concerns that the Loop Current might transport oil out of the Gulf to the Florida Keys and up the eastern seaboard. This possibility highlighted the need for quick predictions of oceanic flows and subsurface hydrocarbon distribution during and after a spill. Because physical and biochemical processes can alter subsurface hydrocarbons’ chemical composition and behavior, a successful modeling system must account for these processes when predicting oil fate.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) recently awarded Dr. Lynn “Nick” Shay a grant to develop an integrated physical and biogeochemical observation and prediction system to map the near-real-time distribution of subsurface hydrocarbons and quantify hydrocarbon fate as oil interacts with currents and sinking marine particles. Their goal is to build an observational system that researchers can easily deploy from ships and/or aircraft to start immediate sampling and begin running model scenarios for future oil spills.

The proposed system is a cluster of ten electromagnetic Autonomous Profiling Explorer (APEX) floats with physical, chemical and bio-optical sensors that provide information to a data-assimilative physical-biogeochemical model for hindcast, nowcast, and forecast simulations of oil transport and fate. The team will equip the floats with a novel combination of CTD and electromagnetic current sensors and oxygen, chlorophyll, and colored dissolved organic matter fluorescence and backscatter sensors. The system will focus on the accurate representation of mid-water column processes, including the interaction of hydrocarbon droplets with marine particles.

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Prior to deployment, Johna Rudzin (right) and assistant research scientist Benjamin Jaimes (left) test the profiling parameters of an air-deployable EM/Apex float in a Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science laboratory. (Photo by Jodi Brewster).

“These floats have been used in the field for shipboard and aircraft deployments during hurricanes and can readily withstand major ocean and atmospheric stressors,” said Shay. “These profilers were designed to profile to depths of 2,000 m at intervals of 4 – 7 days, depending on the ocean and atmosphere conditions. That means if a hurricane is moving over the Gulf, for example, we can program the floats to sample faster and examine the effects of strong wind-driven currents and upwelling on these biochemical processes.”

The researchers will perform data-assimilative model simulations to hindcast circulation during Deepwater Horizon and determine optimal deployment strategies for field testing the floats. They will then deploy the floats in the northern Gulf from Summer 2017 to Spring 2018 to assess its skill during energetic physical processes, such as the Loop Current and atmospheric events, including hurricane season (summer) and atmospheric frontal passages (winter).

The team will assess the system’s performance using profiler metrics such as temperature, current, and salinity taken pre-, during-, and after weather events. They will also assess the system’s performance using data gathered during and after Deepwater Horizon by other GoMRI projects and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They will then evaluate and improve the model’s representation of mid-water column particle distributions and fluxes, accounting explicitly for marine particles interacting with oil droplets. Finally, they will validate the system’s capability for real-time, end-to-end nowcasting and forecasting by assimilating physical and biochemical satellite and float observations in near-real-time and assessing the system’s predictive skill.

Shay explained that the products created by this research will make both academic and societal contributions, “Scientifically, we hope to show how the physical stressors affect these biogeochemical processes. Societally, we hope to provide the community with an easily deployable end-to-end system product that returns real-time data to help emergency responders and policy makers to mitigate deep-sea oil spills like Deepwater Horizon.”

The project’s researchers are Lynn “Nick” Shay at the University of Miami, Katja Fennel at Dalhousie University, Peter Furze at Teledyne Webb Research, and Ruoying He at North Carolina State University. Their project is Three-Dimensional Gulf Circulation and Biogeochemical Processes Unveiled by State-of-the-Art Profiling Float Technology and Data Assimilative Ocean Models.

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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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

ECOGIG Hosts Family STEM Night

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ECOGIG graduate students at UGA (Hannah Choi and Yu Wang) share photos of deep sea creatures, taken with a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) with students at family STEM night. (c) ECOGIG

Consortium outreach staff and graduate students brought the Ocean Discovery Zone to Trip Elementary School’s family STEM night to share science with over 300 interested students and their families.

Read the full story here.

Photos of the event are available on the ECOGIG Facebook page.

Study Suggests Brittle Stars Limited Deepwater Horizon Impacts on Deep Sea Corals

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Close up of a brittle star on its host. This photo illustrates how closely associated these organisms are. (Photo credit: Fanny Girard)

Pennsylvania State University scientists analyzed images of impacted and non-impacted deep sea corals to characterize their symbiotic relationship with brittle stars and determine if brittle stars influenced coral recovery from the Deepwater Horizon spill. The researchers observed that corals associated with brittle stars were healthier than corals that were not. Corals with brittle stars settled on them exhibited less visible impact and a greater incidence of recovery compared to corals with no brittle stars, likely a result of the brittle stars removing deposited material and inhibiting hydroid settlement. The scientists published their findings in Marine Ecology Progress Series: Mutualistic symbiosis with ophiuroids limited the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on deep-sea octocorals.

Coral communities are considered hotspots of biodiversity and provide a habitat and food source for other species. Deep-sea corals can form large aggregates, similar to forests, and can live for thousands of years. However, the corals’ high longevities are associated with very slow growth rates making them vulnerable to environmental impacts. Most Paramuricea biscaya coral colonies – the coral species most impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – are associated with one species of brittle star, Asteroschema clavigerum. While previous studies suggest that brittle stars could use their shallow-water host corals to rise above the sea floor and gain better access to food, few studies have suggested that corals could also benefit from their association with brittle stars. This study seeks to better understand coral’s responses to anthropogenic impacts and interactions with other organisms and provide insights on protecting them.

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Researchers on board the E/V Nautilus image corals from the control room. Credits: Ocean Exploration Trust

Researchers used remotely operated vehicles during seven research cruises between 2011 and 2014 to obtain high-resolution images of corals at three impacted and one non-impacted sites. They digitized the images and coded coral branches as either visibly impacted (excess mucus, bare skeleton, absence of polyps), colonized by hydroids, or not visibly impacted. They then calculated the total visible impact based on the proportion of branches that were colonized by hydroids or otherwise visibly impacted. They developed a method to define an area under the influence of brittle stars for each coral, and compared impact as well as recovery within and outside that area.

The team observed high fidelity between corals and brittle stars at most sites, with 91–100% of brittle stars staying on the same coral over time. While some brittle stars on heavily-impacted corals left their host or died during the year that followed the spill, most stayed on their host coral regardless of oiling.  Within a coral colony, branches located near a brittle star were healthier and, if impacted, were more likely to recover. Coral recovery from visible impact decreased as a coral’s distance from a brittle star increased.

This study demonstrates the importance of brittle stars to coral health and provides evidence that brittle stars protect deep-sea corals and facilitate their recovery from impacts and the only such study on a deep-water coral species. The researchers suggested that these benefits could also apply to corals exposed to natural sedimentation events or other anthropogenic stressors as well as to shallow water corals. “Our study reinforces the fact that biodiversity is important to the health of an ecosystem and that damage to individual species can have wide-ranging effects on entire communities,” said study author Fanny Girard.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi: 10.7266/N7NG4NJP, 10.7266/N7HQ 3WVD, 10.7266/N7D21VJQ, 10.7266/N78913TC, 10.7266/N74J0C2M).

The study’s authors are Fanny Girard, Bo Fu, and Charles R. Fisher.

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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.

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Study Develops Predictive Model for Oil-Particle Aggregate Formation

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Dr. Lin Zhao prepares oil-particle aggregates (OPAs) in the lab of New Jersey Institute of Technology. Photo provided by L. Zhao.

Scientists developed a new model to predict how much oil from a spill might bind to sediments or organic matter in the water column. The model, A-DROP, introduces a formula that accounts for oil stabilization by particles, particle hydrophobicity, and oil-particle size ratio. The model advances our understanding about the natural removal of oil and contributes knowledge towards development of oil spill mitigation techniques that incorporate oil-particle aggregates. The researchers published their findings in Marine Pollution Bulletin: A-DROP: A predictive model for the formation of oil particle aggregates (OPAs).

When oil and particulate matter interact it creates oil-particle aggregates (OPAs), whose decreased buoyancy transports oil to the seafloor. Once particles adhere to an oil droplet’s surface, a barrier is formed that prevents the droplet from attaching to and coalescing with other droplets. Since an oil droplet’s surface area is limited, the space available for particles to interact with decreases as more particles adhere to the droplet’s surface. Models capable of accounting for the effects of particles on droplet surfaces are necessary to accurately predict OPA formation.

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Dr. Zhao uses a confocal microscope imaging techniques to understand the mechanisms of oil-particle interactions during oil spill events. Photo provided by L. Zhao.

The team used previous studies to make informed assumptions about the way water column hydrodynamics affect the break up and coalescence of oil. Using equations for calculating OPA formation, collision frequency, stability, and the coating effects of particles on the oil droplet surface, the researchers created a formula that can determine oil-particle coagulation efficiency under various conditions. They incorporated the new formulation into their model, which showed good agreement when validated against existing experimental data.

Model simulations of OPA formation in a typical nearshore environment suggested that increased particle concentration in the swash zone (the turbulent water layer that washes onto the beach) would increase the oil-particle interaction process. However, the amount of oil trapped in the OPAs did not correspond to the increased particle concentration, and the team determined that only a small increase in oil trapping rates can be expected.

“The model results might explain why oil [from the Deepwater Horizon spill] persisted visually near shorelines that have sand grains in them as opposed to fine sediment shorelines, such as those in Louisiana,” explained study author Michel Boufadel. He continued, “Thus, if you are in a community with fine sediments in the beaches, you might underestimate the amount of oil that reached your shorelines.”

This study is the first attempt at developing a coagulation efficiency formula based on particle coating mechanisms. “Our study started from the microscopic scale (i.e., not only observation), and predicted the behavior, and then we compared to data,” said Boufadel. “The study was numerical, but we are currently using confocal microscopy to understand how particles attach to oil, and the preliminary findings seem to support the conceptual framework of the A-DROP model.”

The researchers noted that further experimental and modeling studies are needed to continue improving the model’s predictive capability.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at R4.x259.190:0008.

The study’s authors are Lin Zhao, Michel C. Boufadel, Xiaolong Geng, Kenneth Lee, Thomas King, Brian Robinson, and Faith Fitzpatrick.

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This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies II (DROPPS II). Other funders include the Department of Fisheries and Ocean Canada (Contract No. F5211-130060).

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Building a Benthic Genome Database for Improved Oil Spill Monitoring

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Image of meiofaunal eukaryotes (Credit to Larry Hyde)

Meiofauna are invertebrate organisms that live in seafloor sediments. These marine creatures perform ecosystem functions such as trophic transfer, biogeochemical cycles, pollution removal, and sediment transport stability. Sensitive to environmental events such as oil spills, meiofauna are valuable bioindicators of impacts from contamination. However, their small size and our limited knowledge about these organisms’ community structure and taxonomy makes it difficult to track and characterize oil’s impacts.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative recently awarded Dr. Kelley Thomas a grant to compile a reference genome database of benthic meiofaunal eukaryotes and establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for monitoring oil spills using bioinformatics. These tools can help researchers and responders interpret how spills might affect organisms in a particular area and how the organisms are expected to recover. “There’s so much we don’t understand about the relationship between the Gulf’s biogeochemical structure and the distribution of different taxa – we really don’t have any idea,” explained Thomas. “This information will help us better interpret the spill’s consequences and what kind of recovery will take place.”

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Larry Hyde reviews samples under a microscope. (Photo by Rick Kalke)

His team is analyzing as many individual benthic eukaryotes as they can using whole genome shotgun sequencing, a quick and economically-effective method for analyzing the structure of long DNA strands. The researchers are compiling the resulting data into a large database of reference genomes to identify biomarker genes based on their ability to identify changes in population and community structure. Once completed, they can sequence pre- and post-spill samples of the benthic community for the biomarker genes and identify which organisms and communities the spill impacted.

“In the mid-2000s, genetic sequencing technology rapidly advanced to allow us to run up to 200,000,000 sequences at a time when before we could only run about 100 sequences at a time,” explained Thomas. “The technology has steadily improved and gotten cheaper over time since then. That’s why today it is feasible to consider modeling the benthic Gulf of Mexico in a large-scale way just by conducting DNA sequencing and analyses.”

The project is also developing clear and concise SOPs for using the genome database to conduct environmental and oil spill monitoring. The open-source SOPs will target researchers without previous genomics experience to help train future scientists to understand the communities’ sediment biology and conduct big data analyses using bioinformatics. An annual workshop will introduce undergraduate and graduate students to the SOPs, from sample preparation to interpreting metagenomics and implementing bioinformatics.

“It’s not just microscopes anymore. Most of a researcher’s time is spent in front of a computer,” said Thomas. “The skills taught in this training will have more biological and environmental applications than just learning how to analyze Gulf of Mexico data.”

Thomas’s team is enthusiastic about the potential of their project’s products to offer analytic tools and facilitate academic progress in the field of biology. They hope to fill gaps in the current understanding of benthic eukaryote taxa, including information about their roles in the environment, their interactions, and even their viral histories. He explained that his team is very interested in the possibility of combining their work with that of other GoMRI projects. For example, combining their findings with the ongoing effort to describe the Gulf’s biogeochemistry and other such patterns and trying to link it to organismal patterns.

“We’re not just developing a practical resource. I believe that this database is going to contribute to and make a substantial impact on biology,” said Thomas. “This is going to be the way people will monitor those environments.”

The project’s researchers are W. Kelley Thomas of the University of New Hampshire Hubbard Center for Genome Studies, Holly M. Bik of the University of California – Riverside, and Paul A. Montagna of the Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies. Their project is Genomic Responses to the Deepwater Horizon Event and Development of High-Throughput Biological Assays for Oil Spills.

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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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Study Examines Transformation of Weathered Oil in Saltmarsh Sediment

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Study author Dr. Aixin Hou from Louisiana State University during the field sample collection in Louisiana wetlands.

Scientists analyzed weathered and fresh Macondo oil to learn about oil products resulting from microbial degradation and photochemical reactions. They observed that 48 months after the Deepwater Horizon spill, less than 1 percent of oil remained in marsh sediments collected from heavily-impacted sites; however, it was still 400 times greater than sites with moderate-to-no observed oiling.  Photo-oxidation and biodegradation contributed to changes in weathered oil and generated persistent oxidized products that are potentially toxic to marine organisms and environment. The researchers published their findings in Environmental Science & Technology: 4 years after the Deepwater Horizon Spill: Molecular transformation of Macondo Well oil in Louisiana salt marsh sediments revealed by FT-ICR mass spectrometry.

The long-term impacts of persistent petroleum and their weathered products are not well understood. This study is the first temporal characterization of Macondo well oil transformation products at the molecular level. The researchers catalogued oxidation patterns in oil samples extracted from saltmarsh sediments in heavily-oiled northern Barataria Bay using electrospray ionization (ESI) Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR-MS) and comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography (GC×GC). They analyzed sediment collected 9 to 48 months post-spill, quantifying the biomarker C30–hopane and estimating the degree of hydrocarbon degradation.

Researchers observed the disappearance of low-molecular weight aromatic hydrocarbons within the first 9 months and detected few or almost no heavy alkanes by 48 months. No significant weathering was observed between 36 and 48 months, suggesting that the depletion of oil continued up to 36 months and then slowed down, or that the biomarker C30–hopane degraded over time. Bulk oxygen content in field samples increased 7-fold after 9 months, indicating that oxidative processes dominated oil weathering during the first months after the spill, and produced persistent oxidized transformation products.

Study author Amy McKenna explained the importance of applying advances in technology to oil spill science, “When assessing long-term impacts of an oil spill, it is critical to have techniques that are well-suited to determine if there is oil present and what it looks like.” She continued, “Oil is still lingering in the salt marshes, and it is being transformed into a very complex, poorly understood mixture that requires this advanced technique. We used advanced analytical instrumentation to watch oil compounds change molecule by molecule in a buried salt marsh four years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”

Data for this study are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at R1.x138.000:0001.

The study’s authors are Huan Chen, Aixin Hou, Yuri E. Corilo, Qianxin Lin, Jie Lu, Irving A. Mendelssohn, Rui Zhang, Ryan P. Rodgers, and Amy M. McKenna.

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This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Deepsea to Coast Connectivity in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (Deep-C) consortium and the Louisiana State University Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences for the projects Accelerating Recovery after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Response of the Plant-Microbial-Benthic Ecosystem to Mitigation Strategies Promoting Wetland Remediation and Resilience and Long-Term Impact, Recovery and Resilience: Wetland plant-microbial-benthic ecosystem responses to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and mitigation strategies promoting sustainability. Other funding sources include the National Science Foundation Division of Materials Research (DMR-11-57490) and the State of Florida.

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Grad Student Quas Analyzes Sediment Grain Size to Characterize Oil Behavior

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Dr. Ian Church trains Lauren to operate the Multibeam on the R/V Point Sur during the first leg of the CONCORDE Fall Campaign. (Photo credit: Heather Dippold)

Oil droplets can attach to tiny sediment particles suspended in the water column, causing them to sink to the seafloor where they can linger for a long time. Sediment grain size influences if and how oil droplets are resuspended into the water column. Larger particles sink faster and are more difficult to resuspend in the water column than smaller particles.

Lauren Quas uses acoustic sonar to map different sediment grain sizes and help understand and predict the behavior of oil in seafloor sediments. Knowing where different grain sizes are concentrated in the northern Gulf of Mexico seafloor can help scientists evaluate resuspension rates in those areas and estimate where oil might end up.

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Lauren and Chief Engineer Joshua Jansen supervise the lowering of the multibeam pole into the water. (Photo credit: Alison Deary, Carla Culpepper, and Kelia Axler)

Lauren Quas is a master’s student in the University of Southern Mississippi’s Hydrographic Science program and a GoMRI Scholar with the Consortium for Oil Spill Exposure Pathways in Coastal River-Dominated Ecosystems (CONCORDE).

Her Path

As a child, Lauren loved being outdoors and collecting rocks and seashells. Her family’s vacations often involved trips to the beach, which sparked her love for the ocean. Encouraged by her parents to see the world, Lauren spent almost a decade during her high school and college years visiting countries in nearly every continent on the globe. No matter where she went, she found that the landscapes and coastlines were the most awe-inspiring parts of her travels. “It is in these places that you realize how small we are as humans and yet how big our impact is on the world,” she said.

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The multibeam sonar attached to the pole mount off the side of the R/V Point Sur. (Photo credit: Ian Church)

While completing her bachelor’s degree in geology at the University of Memphis, Lauren interned at the University of Memphis Groundwater Institute conducting visual stream measurements. Knowing that she wanted to pursue a career that would combine her passion for adventure and travel with her love for the ocean, she enrolled in the University of Southern Mississippi’s Geological Oceanography program. She switched her major to hydrographic science after working with her advisor, Dr. Ian Church, and seeing the career possibilities hydrography offers. She conducts studies with Dr. Church and CONCORDE’s hydrographic research team to understand the dynamics of oil and ocean sediment.

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The Allen Reef Liberty Ship (above) and Casino Magic Barge (below) are examples of seafloor targets researchers can map using multibeam sonar. The sunken vessels are part of fish havens in the northern Gulf of Mexico. (Photo credit: Ian Church, Lauren Quas)

Her Work

Lauren operates a multibeam sonar to map the seafloor’s appearance and depth and quantifies the grain size of sediments using acoustic backscatter (a sound wave’s intensity after hitting the seafloor and returning to the sonar). A higher intensity return indicates that the seafloor sediment has large grain sizes, while a lower intensity return means it is composed of small grain sizes. She also collects sediment samples during research cruises using a sediment multi-corer, which removes the top 5 – 10 cm of sediment from the seabed. The sediment samples are brought back to her team’s lab at Stennis Space Center, where she analyzes them for grain size.

Lauren correlates the grain sizes depicted in the multibeam sonar data with the laboratory grain analyses to graph where different sediment sizes are located. Her sediment and backscatter data are important inputs for CONCORDE’s ocean models, which incorporate physical, chemical, and biological field data. Future scientists and responders will be able to use these models to predict and interpret how future oil spills could impact the northern Gulf of Mexico.

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Lauren uses a multicorer like this one to collect seabed sediment samples. (Photo credit: CONCORDE)

Her Learning

Lauren’s first research cruise began two months after she entered her Hydrographic Science program. She recalled being intimidated at jumping into field work because of her limited background in hydrography. However, Dr. Church used the first leg of the cruise to teach her about the equipment and data processing programs, and Lauren then taught another student how to do so. “The knowledge I gained within such a short time is all due to the opportunities provided to me by Dr. Church and the CONCORDE project,” said Lauren. “This consortium is full of some of the most incredible, hard-working people I have ever met. It has been incredibly valuable to me as a young scientist to watch and work with this team.”

 

 

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Lauren describes how the multibeam sonar transmits real-time bathymetry data to the computers onboard the R/V Point Sur. (Photo credit: Alison Deary, Carla Culpepper, and Kelia Axler)

Her Future

Lauren hopes to complete her master’s degree in August 2017 and begin her career as a field hydrographer. “The world’s oceans need to be mapped and I want to have a part in that,” said Lauren. “I am excited about the advances in technology.” She recommended that students considering a career in science get hands-on experiences to discover their passions. “I started out as a geologist, and now I am a hydrographer. If you have an interest, get your hands dirty. Volunteer or find an internship. You need the fundamentals taught in the classroom, but there is nothing like experiencing what a day in the life of a scientist is like.”

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Lauren (center, gray jacket) and the CONCORDE field team onboard R/V Point Sur for the consortium’s Spring Campaign. (Provided by Lauren Quas)

Praise for Lauren

Dr. Ian Church described Lauren as an intelligent, hardworking, and innovative student whose eagerness to assist and teach others has made her a mentor to her peers. He emphasized the determination and problem-solving skills she exhibited in her leadership role aboard the R/V Point Sur during CONCORDE’s recent seabed mapping campaign. Lauren oversaw the successful mobilization of vessel sonar equipment, system troubleshooting, calibration, and data acquisition, processing, and analysis, which Church called “an incredible and notable accomplishment for anyone, let alone a graduate student with less than a year’s experience.”

Church said that Lauren’s enthusiasm is contagious and she takes pride in her research. “She is a naturally talented researcher with a drive to discover and produce innovative solutions to complex problems – I could not think of a person more deserving of the GoMRI Scholar award.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Lauren Quas 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 CONCORDE website to learn more about their work.

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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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Resiliency and Recovery Connections in Oiled Wetland Plant-Microbial-Benthic Ecosystem

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Restoration/remediation plots set up in a previously heavily oiled shoreline marsh along the northern Barataria Bay, Louisiana. (Photo provided by Qianxin Lin)

Marshes depend on a healthy, well-functioning complex of plants, microbes, and benthic communities to support the environmentally and economically important ecosystem services they offer, such as reducing storm surges and providing nursery grounds for many species. Researchers have been conducting studies assessing Louisiana marsh flora and fauna after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and have identified factors influencing the plant-microbial-benthic complex’s function and long-term sustainability. Their work-to-date suggests that recovery is occurring but is not yet complete, highlighting the need for a much longer-term study to better quantify marsh recovery and resiliency.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative recently awarded Dr. Qianxin Lin a grant to bring together marsh ecosystem researchers and build on their previous work. Specialists are collecting and analyzing samples of marsh plants, benthic organisms, and microbes and are synthesizing their observations to identify connections and influence on oiled marsh recovery. Their findings will help document long-term impacts on the coastal plant-microbial-benthic ecosystem and assess the recovery timeline. They are also evaluating the effectiveness of certain restoration and remediation strategies in promoting long-term sustainability in oil-affected marshes.

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Sean Graham, Stefan Bourgoin, and Don Deis collect samples at a study site in northern Barataria Bay, Louisiana. (Photo provided by Qianxin Lin)

“Researchers are usually specialists who study just one of these components [plants, microbes, benthic communities] rather than all of them,” explained co-Principle Investigator John Fleeger. “We have a group of investigators who are working together to look at all of those parts, and we’re really getting the whole picture of how the marsh is responding.”

The researchers have been sampling the plant-microbial-benthic complex every six months for the last five and a half years. While their previous work focused on how the different components of the marsh responded to oil, they are now focusing on the long-term and larger picture of ecosystem recovery.  Team members return to study sites and collect samples for each component of the study. Some will count the number of periwinkle snails, fiddler crab burrows, and aboveground plant stems present in the field and collect belowground root and rhizome samples. Others analyze soil samples using microscopes and DNA extractions to identify the functional microbial community. They are also testing soil shear strength to determine how stable it is and to make observations about oiling’s influence on the soil’s stability or erosion rate.

The team has already uncovered some of the plant-microbial-benthic connections they are seeking. For example, their work has shown that plants, such as the grass Spartina, and the densities of animals living in the sediment recovered at the same pace, suggesting that the recovery of sedimentary animals is closely correlated with plant recovery. Fleeger explained, “We have to make these connections thinking ‘What did the plant people find? What did the benthic people find? How can we look at those findings together and make connections within them?’ There’s no one big magic index that allows us to put all of the data in one big formula and crank out a number. We have to actually gauge how the different components are responding and then piece it together.”

The researchers plan to expand their work this summer to include field manipulative experiments that look closely at linkages they have identified, such as the relationship between plants and periwinkle snails. The team will investigate how strong these interactions are and how oil might tip the balance between the plants’ sustainability and the numbers of the snails eating them. They are also building on past experiments to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of restoration plantings and remediation with fertilizer. Initial assessments of the experiments have shown promising short-term results towards accelerating the pace of recovery and enhancing marsh stability. The team will continue experimenting with and evaluating combinations of planting and fertilizer to determine their viability as methods for enhancing long-term marsh recovery.

The project’s researchers are Qianxin Lin, John Fleeger, and Aixin Hou at Louisiana State University, Donald R. Deis at Atkins North America, Inc., and Sean Graham at Nicholls State University. Their project is Long-Term Impact, Recovery and Resilience: Wetland Plant-Microbial-Benthic Ecosystem Responses to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Mitigation Strategies Promoting Sustainability.

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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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

DEEPEND Releases Marine Navigation Learning Module

3934The module is the fourth in a series of marine environment-focused teaching and learning modules developed by the consortium for grades 6 – 12. This module focuses on navigating marine environments, particularly historical and current human navigation and animal navigation. The module is available for download here.

This module is the fourth in a series of teaching and learning modules developed by the DEEPEND (Deep-Pelagic Nekton Dynamics) Consortium and their consultants. Whenever possible, the lessons will focus specifically on events of the Gulf of Mexico or work from the DEEPEND scientists.

All modules in this series aim to engage students in grades 6 through 12 in STEM disciplines, while promoting student learning of the marine environment. We hope these lessons enable teachers to address student misconceptions and apprehensions regarding the unique organisms and properties of marine ecosystems. We intend for these modules to be a guide for teaching. Teachers are welcome to use the lessons in any order, use just portions of lessons, and may modify the lessons as they wish. Furthermore, educators may share these lessons with other school districts and teachers; however, please do not receive monetary gain for lessons in any of the modules.

You can view other modules here: http://outreach.deependconsortium.org/index.php/education/resources/lesson-plans

CRGC Releases Working Paper Exploring Post-Spill Effects on Fisheries

3954The consortium’s preliminary findings suggest the spill had at least short-run negative impacts on fisheries landings and that there may be both biological and behavioral components driving the observed changes. A free PDF of the full report is available here.

What were the direct impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DH) oil spill on the Gulf fisheries industry? This paper reports results from an ex-post analysis of the spill using publicly available, routinely collected data on landings, revenues, and fishing effort for select fish species in the Gulf. Our methods examine the overall impact of the oil spill as well as changes that occurred over time. A key contribution of our work is that it goes beyond simple pre-post analysis and applies various identification strategies that have been developed in the econometric literature, in order to identify the causal effects of the spill. Nevertheless, the limitations of the data preclude many strategies. Investigation of the short and longer term dynamics of the Gulf fisheries has important implications for understanding the resilience of Gulf communities in the face of large-scale environmental events like DH. The dynamic path of certain indicators, such as fisheries landings and revenues, can provide information about the resilience of fisheries to oil spill events at the sectoral level, aggregating the various physical, policy, and behavioral responses that combine to form the latent resilience construct. These interim findings may help stakeholders, policy-makers, and researchers define the impacts of environmental disasters over time, understand the dynamics of response, and plan for future uncertain events.

GoMRI RFP-V: Chemical evolution & degradation of petroleum in saline marsh plants & soils (Van Bael)

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Dr. Sunshine Van Bael

The importance of bacteria for biodegradation of petroleum is well described for contaminated seawater and coastal soils, but very little is known about the role of symbiotic plant bacteria in degrading petroleum. Endophytes are bacteria and fungi that live as symbionts within plant roots, stems and leaves. These symbionts are closely associated with the plant and some endophyte species serve the dual purpose of promoting plant growth and degrading petroleum inside of plant tissues. In an extreme environment such as a salt marsh, where oxygen is limited in soils, plants may be especially dependent on endophytic bacteria for resilience to stress and to respond to petroleum contamination.

The overall goal of the proposed research is to develop a mechanistic understanding of plant bacterial symbioses in relation to petroleum/dispersant pollution in saline marshes. The proposed work will characterize the transport, fate and catabolic activities of bacterial communities in petroleum-polluted soils and within plant tissues. The project focuses on Spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass), the foundational grass species within salt marshes along Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The specific goals are (1) to use next-generation genomic technology for characterizing the taxonomy and function of microbial communities inside of S. alterniflora tissues and in the rhizosphere, while relating these communities to the chemical evolution of crude oil constituents in plant tissues and in soil; and (2) to use new visualization and computational modeling approaches for investigating the biomechanical and chemical influences on bacteria movement at the interface of roots and soil to mechanistically relate bacterial chemotaxis to the presence of petroleum, dispersant, oxygen and root exudates. The proposed research goals directly address GoMRI research theme two, as each ultimately relates plant-symbiont interactions to the chemical evolution and biodegradation of petroleum and dispersants in coastal ecosystems. Pursuing these goals will advance understanding of key processes that occurred in the DWH spill and may occur in future spills.

The outcomes of the proposed research will include (1) a deeper knowledge of the functional genomics of petroleum degradation and uptake of petroleum into plants, (2) the first descriptions and computational models for the biomechanical and chemical aspects of bacterial movement at the root: rhizosphere interface in response to petroleum and dispersant, and (3) the first determination of how plant-endophyte symbioses influence the fate of petroleum in marsh ecosystems. Developing a mechanistic understanding of plant-symbiont-petroleum interactions could provide a foundation for the development of remediation tools using naturally occurring plant-bacteria combinations. Such strategies are being developed in other ecosystems but have not yet been extended to include coastal plants in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), where there is a persistently high threat of petroleum contamination.

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 Summarizes Current Knowledge on Marine Oil Snow During and After Deepwater Horizon

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A conceptual diagram of marine oil snow processes: (A) oil release and dispersant application; (B) rising oil and gas and plume formation; (C1–C4) processes influencing oil snow formation (wind, diatom bloom, surface dispersants, UV light and evaporation, aerosols and burning, and sinking particles); (D) a benthic nepheloid layer and oil plumes; (E) marine oil snow sedimentation and coral flocculation, and (F) resuspension of oiled sediments. Figure 4 in the publication.

Scientists conducting oil spill research participated in the 2013 Marine Oil Snow Sedimentation and Flocculent Accumulation (MOSSFA) workshop. The researchers discussed the formation and fate of oil-associated marine snow and its ecological impacts on deep-sea environments and made recommendations for future marine oil snow research. The scientists published a report of their findings and discussions in Anthropocene: Assessing the impacts of oil-associated marine snow formation and sedimentation during and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Study author Kendra Daly summarized the main points from the workshop, “The Deepwater Horizon marine oil snow sedimentation event is recognized to be a significant pathway for oil distribution and fate; marine oil snow formation and sedimentation is influenced by plankton and bacterial dynamics and river discharge of nutrients and suspended minerals; and emergency responders should consider oil sedimentation processes when planning mitigation strategies.”

The authors reported that oil-associated marine snow accounted for as much as 14% of the total oil released during Deepwater Horizon. Sedimented oil on the seafloor may result in prolonged exposure to benthic organisms and economically-important fish. An elevated and extended Mississippi River discharge enhanced phytoplankton production and suspended particle concentrations, zooplankton grazing, and microbial mucus formation.

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Researchers use a towed camera imaging system (the Shadowed Image Particle Profiling and Evaluation Recorder or “SIPPER”) and customized software (Plankton Image Classification and Extraction Software or “PICES”) to record organisms and marine snow particles during the Deepwater Horizon spill. (Photo by Andrew Remsen)

Daly explained that scientists estimate hundreds of millions of tons of marine snow sink to the seafloor every year, providing food for deep-water animals and playing an important role in the Earth’s natural carbon cycle. Daly described a conceptual framework of MOSSFA processes, “Marine snow occurs everywhere in the world’s oceans, is found at all depths, and is a part of the ocean’s biological pump, which controls how much atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean and how much carbon sinks into deep water.” Daly explained that as marine snow particles form and sink, they may clump together with other small particles creating small “flakes” of marine snow and that some particles make it to the seafloor and some are eaten by zooplankton and begin their cycle again.

The authors said that marine snow particles are considered hot spots for microbial activity which likely assisted the high microbial degradation rates observed in below-surface oil plumes that formed during and after the spill. Some of the direct and indirect marine ecosystem impacts may have occurred through ingestion, microbial activity, smothering, suboxic and anoxic conditions, transfer through the marine food web, and immunotoxicity through exposure and/or bioaccumulation.

Recommendations for future marine oil snow studies included the influence of sub-sea dispersant application, sub-surface oil plumes, and physical processes (especially large storms); long-term environmental impacts; coupling marine oil snow models to circulation models; and baseline time-series data for all ecosystem levels where hydrocarbon extraction takes place. See the MOSSFA Workshop Report for additional details.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N78P5XFP and doi:10.7266/N76T0JKS.

The study’s authors are Kendra L. Daly, Uta Passow, Jeffrey Chanton, and David Hollander.

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This research was made possible by grants from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE I), the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems II (C-IMAGE II), the Ecosystems Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG 1) consortium, the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf-2 (ECOGIG-2) consortium, the Deepsea to Coast Connectivity in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (DEEP-C) consortium, and Florida Institute of Oceanography.

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Study Advances Predictions of Air Pollution from Oil Slick Evaporation

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Author Greg Drozd displays at depth and at surface modeled cumulative yields of potential secondary organic aerosol formation for Deepwater Horizon oil evaporation. Photo provided by G. Drozd.

Scientists ran model simulations for oil evaporation based on composition measurements of fresh Macondo crude oil and weathered surface oil from Deepwater Horizon slicks. The authors classified hydrocarbons with 10–30 carbons (which make up ~70% of total oil mass) by degree of branching, number of cyclic rings, aromaticity, and molecular weight. The simulations indicated that following the spill, subsurface and surface transport pathways created slicks with a range of evaporative ages. Light hydrocarbon fractions were dominate in the first 30 hours after the spill and longer-chain hydrocarbons were dominate after that. The modeling results suggest that a constant evaporation flux of volatile material during spills can lead to sustained ozone production. The authors published their findings in Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans: Modeling comprehensive chemical composition of weathered oil following a marine spill to predict ozone and potential secondary aerosol formation and constrain transport pathways.

The Deepwater Horizon spill released oil that persisted on the water surface and in the water column; however, the spill also released some oil components into the atmosphere. The oxidation of volatilized light hydrocarbons, which leads to the formation of secondary organic aerosols (EPA-regulated pollutants), broadened the spill’s impact area and time scale. These conditions highlighted the need for predicting and measuring atmospheric effects and to assess human health impacts.

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Modeled cumulative yields of potential secondary organic aerosol (PSOA) formation from DHW oil evaporation for two scenarios: (left) release at 1500 m depth, (right) surface spill. Image from Figure 9 in the publication.

“Our evaporation model is the most detailed treatment of oil evaporation so far and aids greatly in predicting air pollution from an oil spill,” said study author Greg Drozd. “Novel state-of-the art analysis using gas chromatography with vacuum-ultra-violet-ionization mass spectrometry allowed us to show that some of the released oil traveled up to 100 km away from the Deepwater Horizon rig prior to reaching the ocean surface, showing that an oil spill can lead to air pollution far from the spill site.”

Drozd explained that their analysis and modeling indicated a significant amount of organic aerosol could form from the released oil, which NOAA aircraft measurements taken during the spill confirmed. Wind-tunnel experiments verified their model’s ability to accurately represent the changes in oil composition that occurred during evaporation.

The authors said that initial comprehensive composition can assist researchers and responders to predict potential pollutant formation and the sensitivity of atmospheric emissions to the type of release (deep-sea versus surface spill). Information on oil composition and prediction of time-resolved weathering effects can inform response decisions on the window of opportunity for response measures (burning, dispersant application), dispersant formulation, and predicting flocculation events.

Data for this study are archived at the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N7K64G1H.

The study’s authors are Greg T. Drozd, David R. Worton, Christoph Aeppli, Christopher M. Reddy, Haofei Zhang, Evan Variano, and Allen H. Goldstein.

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This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Gulf of Mexico Integrated Spill Response Consortium (GISR) consortium. Other funding sources included the National Science Foundation OCE-1333148.

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

Study Finds UVB Radiation Increases Oil Toxicity in Marine Copepod Larvae

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Tracy Harvey at the University of Texas at Austin uses fiber optics to analyze copepod behavior. Photo provided by DROPPS from the Journey to Planet Earth: Dispatches from the Gulf.

Scientists conducted laboratory exposure experiments to assess the effects of dispersed crude oil, Corexit 9500A dispersant, and natural ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation on early larval stages of planktonic copepods (“nauplii”). The researchers found that chemically-dispersed oil significantly reduced survival, growth, and movement of copepod nauplii compared to other treatments. UVB radiation further elevated mortality rates of copepod nauplii up to 4 times and decreased naupliar growth rates compared to treatments without UVB radiation. The authors published their findings in Chemosphere: Influence of UVB radiation on the lethal and sublethal toxicity of dispersed crude oil to planktonic copepod nauplii.

Some crude oil compounds, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, absorb UVB radiation from the sun, which can cause photo-enhanced toxicity of crude oil. However, most studies that investigate crude oil toxicity on marine zooplankton use artificial light with no UVB radiation.  This study’s team sought to bridge that knowledge gap because planktonic copepods are key components of marine pelagic ecosystems. Copepod nauplii are the most abundant forms of metazoans on the planet and the main prey of many fish larvae. However, little is known about lethal and sublethal effects of dispersed crude oil and chemical dispersants on these important creatures.

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Tracey Harvey counts plankton in the lab. Provided by DROPPS.

Researchers conducted 48-hour exposure experiments (using different concentrations of mechanically and chemically dispersed crude oil ranging from 0.5 to 2 µL L-1) to determine the effect of UVB radiation on the oil toxicity to nauplii of the copepods Acartia tonsa, Temora turbinata and Pseudodiaptomus pelagicus. The team chose these toxicant exposure concentrations because of documentation showing them to be in the low range typically found in the water column after crude oil spills and/or dispersant applications (McAuliffe et al., 1981; Wells, 1984; Lichtenthaler and Daling, 1985; Clayton et al., 1993; Mukherjee and Wrenn, 2009; National Commission on the BP Deep Ocean Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, 2011).

The team collected adult copepod specimens from the Aransas Ship Channel and Corpus Christi Bay and raised them in the laboratory.  Nauplii ingested oil droplets and their mortality rate rose as crude oil concentration increased. All experimental treatments reduced growth and swimming behavior of nauplii compared to controls, with dispersant-treated oil in the presence of UVB radiation causing the greatest reductions. Control treatments did not reveal harmful effects of UVB radiation alone to copepod nauplii.

The authors noted that, in addition to direct lethal effects, the sublethal effects of dispersed crude oil may have important implications on planktonic copepod recruitment and population dynamics. Their results support previous studies that indicate that small zooplankton, especially early-life stages and ciliates, are particularly sensitive to chemically dispersed oil and, therefore, highly vulnerable to the impact of oil spills and dispersant applications in marine environments. They also emphasized the importance of including natural sunlight in petroleum toxicological studies and models to ensure more accurate estimation of oil spills’ potential impact on marine zooplankton.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at R1.x140.125:0009.

The study’s authors are Rodrigo Almeda, Tracy E. Harvey, Tara L. Connelly, Sarah Baca, and Edward J. Buskey.

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This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the consortium for Dispersion Research on Oil:  Physics and Plankton Studies (DROPPS) and the consortium for Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies II (DROPPS II). Other funding sources include the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program (Grant OCE-1062745) and the Villum Foundation.

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/.

© Copyright 2010- 2017 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).

GoMRI RFP-V: Resilience Attributes for Children, Youth, and Communities in Deepwater Horizon (Slack)

The Understanding Resilience Attributes for Children, Youth, and Communities in the Wake of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill project is lead by Tim Slack, Louisiana State University.

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Dr. Tim Slack

This proposal outlines a research agenda to assess the public health impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DH) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, with special emphasis on the impacts of the disaster on children and their families over time. The project will leverage face-to-face household interview data (N=692) collected by Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) in 2014 on child and family health impacts in DH spill affected areas to build a three wave longitudinal data set with the 91% (N=629) of respondents who agreed to participate in subsequent follow up surveys.

Specifically, the proposed research asks the following research questions: Q1: What are the impacts of disaster-related trauma on children and families exposed to the 2010 DH oil spill, both in terms of physical and mental health effects as well as social consequences, such as increased risk behaviors, and decreased economic and educational opportunities? Q2: What is the relationship of primary and secondary stressors on these outcomes? Q3: What attributes of children and families are related to greater resilience to negative disaster-related impacts? Conversely, what attributes of children and families are related to greater vulnerability to negative impacts? Q3a: How does resilience/vulnerability vary across key sociodemographic groups, economic/occupational types (e.g., fishers and oil/gas workers), and families with different levels of social capital (e.g., social network structures and trust) or attachment to the social or natural environment? Q3b: What role do online social networks play in facilitating resilience? Q4: What sorts of issues are children confronting as a result of the oil spill and what sorts of measures do children, families, and community stakeholders see as being needed in response? Q5: How do all of the above change over time?

The ultimate goals of this research project are to: 1) Assess the public health and social impacts of the DH oil spill with a special focus on children and their families; 2) Identify attributes of children and families associated with resilience to negative disaster impacts and, conversely, attributes of children and families associated with vulnerability to negative disaster impacts; 3) Build a three wave panel dataset that allows for the assessment of within-unit change (i.e., children and their families) related to impacts, resilience, and vulnerability; 4) Train graduate students in disaster resilience research to help build the next generation of scholars dedicated to these issues; and 5) Make the information generated from this project actionable with the aim of helping facilitate disaster resilience and mitigate vulnerability.

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/.

Colwell Named National Academy of Inventors Fellow

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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.

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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/.

DEEPEND Infographic Poster Visualizes Vertical Migration

3934DEEPEND investigators served as consultants for their partner Oregon Coast Aquarium’s educational infographic about diel vertical migration – the largest animal migration phenomenon on earth. The consortium has printed several copies of the poster to distribute to teachers as well as a large banner for use during outreach events.

Download your own copy of the poster here!

 

ACER Word Wednesday Series Discusses “Trophic Cascade”

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Food webs in kelp forests with and without sea otters showing the impacts of a trophic cascade. Source: Brumbaugh AMNH-CBC, http://research.amnh.org/biodiversity/crisis/index.html

The recent article explains that changes to one level in a food chain can sometimes result in changes in other levels, called a trophic cascade. Trophic cascades can be top-down (changes in the top trophic level impacted levels down the food chain) or bottom-up (changes in the bottom trophic level impacted levels up the food chain).

Read the full article here.

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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.”

 

 

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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.

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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

Oil Spill’s Mental Health Impacts

Click image to download PDF…

The 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.

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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

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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.

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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…

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.”

 

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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…

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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

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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.

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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

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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).

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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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.

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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)

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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…

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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/.