Author Archives: Suzanne Shean

The Gulf of Mexico multidisciplinary curriculum — Deep Sea to Coast Connectivity

Curriculum

The Gulf of Mexico multidisciplinary curriculum… Click Image for PDF.

Deep Sea to Coast Connectivity: Utilizing scientific research to help students make connections between the theoretical nature of science and real world applications, was developed around the five main research areas of the Deep-C Consortium: geomorphology, geochemistry, ecology, physical oceanography, and modeling. Each module includes five cumulative lessons, background information on the topic, relevant supplementary reading materials, a glossary, and an assessment. The purpose of this curriculum is to: Provide teachers with a user-friendly curriculum that will introduce students to real-world applications of science as well as specific examples of environmental disasters – their impacts on ocean ecosystems as well as nature’s ability to and mechanisms for recovering from such events and to increase Gulf of Mexico literacy. The curriculum is aligned with ocean literacy principles and the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards (NGSSS).

For a downloadable PDF version of the curriculum, click here. For more information, click here.

Study Finds Clay Nanotubes Yield More Efficient Oil-Water Emulsions than Spherical Particles

 

Addition (spray) of natural clay nantubes (a) to oil spill spot coverts to tiny microdroplet coated with the nanoclay (b-c) which are stable in water (d). These microdroplets can be easier biodgraded. Image provided by Yuri Lvov.

Addition (spray) of natural clay nantubes (a) to oil spill spot coverts to tiny microdroplet coated with the nanoclay (b-c) which are stable in water (d). These microdroplets can be easier biodgraded. Image provided by Yuri Lvov.

Researchers assessed various structures of clay nanotubes or halloysites, which are being studied for their potential in oil spill emulsification. They tested the nanotubes to identify which structures generated the most stable emulsions and smallest oil droplets and if catalytic reactions improved at the oil-water interface. The team found that nanotubes between .4 and 1.5 micrometers length and .05 micrometers diameter, combined with increased surface hydrophobicity through salinization, yielded the most stable oil droplets of 3 – 5 micrometers diameter. Halloysites improved interfacial catalytic reaction products in terms of yield, selectivity, and separation compared to spherical nanoparticles. Halloysite concentrations up to ~2.5 mg mL-1 did not significantly reduce the enzymatic activity or growth of alkane-degrading A. borkumensis bacteria. The researchers published their findings in Advanced Materials Interfaces: Halloysites Stabilized Emulsions for Hydroformylation of Long Chain Olefins.

Pickering emulsions take place when nano or microparticles accumulate on a droplet’s surface and stabilize it against coalescence. Previous research found that halloysite clay nanotubes loaded with surfactant present an efficient, low-cost, and environmentally friendly method for creating Pickering emulsions of oil and water. This study investigated the nanotubes’ optimal structure and interactions with bacteria, which are still under investigation.

“This tubule clay has soap-like properties and may work similar to detergent dispersant for converting large spilled oil spots into tiny droplets,” said study co-author Yuri Lvov. “We optimized the halloysite clay nanotube structures for more efficient oil dispersion in salty seawater and reached very small (10 – 20 micrometers) droplet diameters, which will be better consumed by oil-eating bacteria, which is also characterized in this paper.”

Researchers prepared halloysite nanotubes of different lengths and degrees of hydrophobia and applied varying concentrations to Louisiana sweet petroleum or pure dodecene (an alkene of 12 carbon atoms ending with a double bond, which makes it useful for various applications). Trials assessing the safety of halloysite nanotubes exposed A. borkumensis bacteria to varying amounts of nanotube concentrations and observed their resulting enzymatic and physiological activity using colorimetric assays.

The cylindrical elongated particles had five-times higher droplet surface detachment energy than the same mass of spherical particles. The halloysite tubes oriented laterally at the surface of droplets, explaining the large resistance against coalescence. The oil-in-water emulsions allowed the Rhodium-based catalyst compound to efficiently convert dodecene to tridecanal (base chemical used for polymer or solvent products). This strategy proved more efficient than trials using spherical particles (silica), and the researchers noted that filling the nanotubes with reaction-enhancing chemicals could further improve the results of interfacial reactions.

The results obtained on oil emulsification and halloysite safety suggest further technology extension for oil spill remediation. Pickering emulsification can proceed with low energies similar to ocean turbulence, stability of droplets may extend to more than a week, and the oil-water interface is roughened, which helps bacteria proliferation.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N73X8533.

The study’s authors are Regine von Klitzing, Dimitrij Stehl, Tobias Pogrzeba, Reinhard Schomacker, Renata Minullina, Abhishek Panchal, Svetlana Konnova, Rawil Fakhrullin, Joachim Koetz, Helmuth Mohwald, and Yuri Lvov.

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This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to Louisiana Tech University’s Institute for Micromanufacturing and Department of Chemical Engineering for their project The Design of Synergistic Dispersant and Herding Systems using Tubular Clay Structures and Gel Phase Materials. Other funding sources included the Collaborative Research Center “Integrated Chemical Processes in Liquid Multiphase Systems” supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG-TRR 63, TP A2 and B6) and the Russian Science Foundation (Grant No. 14-14-00924).

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).

Modeling Study Analyzes Sperm Whale Recovery after Environmental Disturbances

Dr. Azmy Ackleh reviews modelling simulations of how environmental disturbances impact sperm whales. The contour plot on the left shows that a small change in survival rates over a long time period results in a large change in population dynamics. Photo provided by A. Ackleh.

Dr. Azmy Ackleh reviews modelling simulations of how environmental disturbances impact sperm whales. The contour plot on the left shows that a small change in survival rates over a long time period results in a large change in population dynamics. Photo provided by A. Ackleh.

Researchers used population models to investigate how reduced survival and fertility after environmental disturbances, such as an oil spill, might affect sperm whale populations. Model simulations indicated that the magnitude of a disturbance had a stronger impact on recovery from lethal and sublethal effects than its duration. When comparing lethal and sublethal effects of the same duration, reduced survival influenced a population’s probability of recovery more than reduced fertility, even when reproduction stopped completely for the full duration of a disturbance. The researchers published their findings in Ecotoxicology: Analysis of lethal and sublethal impacts of environmental disasters on sperm whales using stochastic modeling.

Sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico are distinct from those in the Atlantic Ocean because females and juveniles stay in the Gulf, they are smaller in size and have fewer numbers, and they have genetic differences. Because the Gulf of Mexico sperm whale population is small, closed, and slow-growing, disturbances such as the Deepwater Horizon incident may affect population viability. It is unknown to what extent and how long these sperm whales were exposed to spill toxicants, but acoustic studies conducted in 2007 – 2010 confirm that the whales were present in impacted areas during the incident.

Given the lack of data on vital rates and toxicant effects on these whales, researchers developed a mathematical model based on previously determined survival probabilities (Chiquet, et.al., 2013) to examine scenarios of sperm whale populations’ recovery from disturbances. The team also incorporated demographic stochasticity (population growth variation at the individual level) into the model using the simulation process described in Caswell, 2001.

Lead study author Azmy S. Ackleh stated, “Using mathematical modeling to study the recovery time of a population after a disaster is a rather new concept. This alternative approach of utilizing mathematical models can help us understand what might happen to population trends should disturbances of different types and magnitudes occur.”

Model simulations indicated that, when fertility is reduced by 70%, the population faced the danger of not being able to recover to pre-disturbance levels within 50 years when reduced fertility lasted for 26 or more years. However, if fertility is reduced for 10 years, the population always showed recovery within 100 years even when no reproduction occurred during that time, which corresponds to patterns for other long-lived species. This is in sharp contrast to how reduced survivability affected recovery: when survival was reduced by 6% for 10 years, the probability for population recovery in 100 years was 19%. When the disturbance lasted for 10 years, the survival reduction had to be less than 11% for the population to recover within 150 years. If survival was reduced by more than 11%, the probability of full recovery within 150 years was nearly zero. If a disturbance lasted for a long period of time, a small change in the reduction of survival rates due to this disturbance resulted in a large change in population dynamics.

This study assumed that no other disaster or detrimental event to a population occurred within the time of recovery. Doing so brings up questions about population sustainability if a second disaster happens while recovering from a previous event. The authors recommend that future studies address this scenario.

“The methodology developed in this study is general enough and can be applied to many other species, not just sperm whales,” said Ackleh. “Our approach could be used to shed light on how variety of populations were impacted by the Deepwater Horizon incident.”

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N7ZK5DQ7 and doi:10.7266/N7TT4P1C.

The study’s authors are Azmy S. Ackleh, Ross A. Chiquet, Baoling Ma, Tingting Tang, Hal Caswell, Amy Veprauskas, and Natalia Sidorovskaia.

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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. Other funding sources included ERC Advanced Grant 322989.

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 Shi Uses Chemical Fingerprinting to Investigate Oil in the Water Column

David uses mesocosms to simulate conditions in the natural ocean environment. (Photo credit: ADDOMEx)

David uses mesocosms to simulate conditions in the natural ocean environment. (Photo credit: ADDOMEx)

David takes fluorescence measurements to identify the presence of PAHs in his samples. (Provided by David Shi)

David takes fluorescence measurements to identify the presence of PAHs in his samples. (Provided by David Shi)

David (back row, far left) and the ADDOMEx research team in June 2016. (Provided by David Shi)

David (back row, far left) and the ADDOMEx research team in June 2016. (Provided by David Shi)

David uses mesocosms to simulate conditions in the natural ocean environment. (Photo credit: ADDOMEx)

David uses mesocosms to simulate conditions in the natural ocean environment. (Photo credit: ADDOMEx)

Crude oil contains tens of thousands of hydrocarbons, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that create unique chemical fingerprints for different types of oil. Dawei “David” Shi uses geochemical analysis techniques in mesocosm studies to track these fingerprints, observe how they change over time, and investigate how dispersant affects PAH concentrations in the water column.

David is a Ph.D. student with Texas A&M University’s Department of Oceanography, a researcher with the Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG), and a GoMRI Scholar with the Aggregation and Degradation of Dispersants and Oil by Microbial Exopolymers (ADDOMEx) consortium.

His Path

David’s parents encouraged his early interest in science as a child growing up in southern China where his father was a physical oceanography professor. He became interested in environmental science after visiting coastal cities as a middle school and high school student. These cities were located in the fastest-developing region of China, and the local environment suffered as a result.

David attended the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology where he completed a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in environmental science. David’s application to Texas A&M University’s oceanography Ph.D. program caught the attention of Dr. Terry Wade, who thought that David’s scientific background would be perfect for his research investigating microbes’ role in oil sedimentation and degradation. Shortly afterwards, David began his Ph.D. work as a member of Wade’s lab.

His Work

While oil contains many hydrocarbons, only PAHs produce a strong fluorescent signature. PAHs typically represent a relatively fixed percentage of total petroleum hydrocarbons, allowing researchers to estimate the concentration of dissolved oil in a water sample based on its PAH concentrations. This measurement is called an estimated oil equivalent (EOE).

David takes fluorescence measurements to identify the presence of PAHs in his samples. (Provided by David Shi)

David takes fluorescence measurements to identify the presence of PAHs in his samples. (Provided by David Shi)

David investigates the role of microbes in oil sedimentation and degradation using mesocosm experiments to simulate the ocean environment. The ADDOMEx team prepares water-accommodated fractions (WAFs) and chemically enhanced WAFs (CEWAFs) by adding Macondo surrogate oil or surrogate oil plus Corexit 9500 (1:20 ratio, consistent with EPA recommendations) to seawater and filling twelve 120 L mesocosm tanks with these mixtures. The EOE in the mesocosms is 0.2-0.7 mg/L or ppm for WAF treatments and 39-81 mg/L or ppm for CEWAF treatments.

Then the team adds microbes collected with a plankton net from Galveston Bay and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (an open ocean site in the Gulf of Mexico) to the mesocosm tanks. They collect water samples at the beginning of the experiment and every 24 hours for 72 – 96 hours thereafter and determines the EOE using total scanning fluorescence, an analytical technique that can selectively screen samples for PAH presence.

“It only takes approximately five minutes to process a sample using this technique, and it provides an approach to quickly determine the oil concentration in situ,” said David. “The main drawback of the fluorescence technique is that it provides few details about the composition of these PAHs, because their fluorescence signatures are very similar.”

David uses gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to fill in the missing information about the PAH compositions in the samples. His early results showed that low molecular weight (LMW) and high molecular weight (HMW) PAH concentrations reduced at about the same rate when dispersants were present. In trials without dispersants, LMW-PAHs vanished in about one day while HMW-PAHs persisted longer, with some compounds barely diminishing after four days. David said that this observation is important because HMW-PAH compounds are more carcinogenic than LMW-PAHs.

David believes that his preliminary results suggest that dispersant may alter the removal of PAH compounds from the water column, and he is working to characterize the nature of those alterations. He plans to conduct more mesocosm experiments that focus on the entry and removal of PAHs from sediments. “Hopefully, we will find out how much of these PAHs get into sediment and how much is biodegraded in situ,” he said. “Whether dispersants enhance oil biodegradation is still not clear, but it is an important issue and I hope my research can contribute to our understanding of it.”

His Learning

David’s research experiences have shown him the importance of cross-field training to an environmental science career. Because he analyzes data primarily from a chemistry perspective, he felt “enlightened” when he heard other researchers discuss the results in a biological context. He has enjoyed the poster sessions during Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science conferences because presenters provided insights into his work. “People from different scientific backgrounds walked by and discussed my poster with me,” he explained. “Not only did I enjoy making connections to fellow scientists, sometimes the discussion itself was really inspiring and encouraged me to think outside the box.”

 

David (back row, far left) and the ADDOMEx research team in June 2016. (Provided by David Shi)

David (back row, far left) and the ADDOMEx research team in June 2016. (Provided by David Shi)

His Future

David plans to pursue a post-doc position in China followed by an academic or industry career that would allow him to use his education and expertise to improve China’s environmental conditions. He advises students considering a scientific career to engage in a wide range of sciences, “One should have a very broad understanding of all natural science fields, rather than simply focusing on one’s own discipline.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like David Shi 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 ADDOMEx 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 Describes How Marine Particle Aggregates Influence Oil Spill Fate

Evan Variano (left) along with doctoral students Madeline Foster (middle) and Kimberly Hyunh (right) is continuing this research with a focus on sediment processes in wetlands.

Evan Variano (left) along with doctoral students Madeline Foster (middle) and Kimberly Hyunh (right) is continuing this research with a focus on sediment processes in wetlands.

Researchers analyzed simulated interactions of oil droplets and marine particle aggregates to understand how they could affect the behavior of an oil spill. The scientists found that the attachment of oil droplets to particle aggregates changed the distribution of oil droplet sizes over time scales of hours. As oil droplet sizes got larger, a greater fraction of the total oil volume attached to marine aggregates and sank. As oil droplet size got smaller, which they would if chemical dispersants are used, the total volume of oil that sank with marine aggregates reduced by 10 – 90%. This change might influence oil spill evolution if there were a large enough concentration of oil and marine aggregates. The researchers published their findings in Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans: Collision of oil droplets with marine aggregates: Effect of droplet size.

Submerged oil droplets can collide with each other, aquatic organisms, or solid particle aggregates (i.e., marine snow) in the water column. When oil attaches to marine aggregates, the biogeochemistry of aggregates change as does the removal rate of oil (by sinking) from the water column. Understanding the resulting effects of oil removed from the water column is important to predicting and understanding the behavior and fate of an oil spill.

 

From Figure 9 of the paper: Percent reduction in oil volume attaching to aggregates if each drop is broken into 1000 smaller droplets. Dash-dotted line = highly permeable aggregate; cyan/gray dashed line = weakly permeable aggregate; solid line = impermeable aggregate. Thick lines = strong buoyancy; thin lines = weak buoyancy.

From Figure 9 of the paper: Percent reduction in oil volume attaching to aggregates if each drop is broken into 1000 smaller droplets. Dash-dotted line = highly permeable aggregate; cyan/gray dashed line = weakly permeable aggregate; solid line = impermeable aggregate. Thick lines = strong buoyancy; thin lines = weak buoyancy.

Researchers in this study combined three existing models used for quantifying the motion and particle-capture dynamics of marine aggregates. They evaluated the model using parameters spanning a wide range of values reflecting oil spill conditions and calculated the droplet-aggregate collision rate for three dominant collision mechanisms (diffusion, settling, and shear).

 

The researchers observed that multiple mechanisms were equally important (typically settling and shear) when oil droplets and marine aggregates each had a radius of 10 micrometers. However, as marine aggregates became larger, the dominant mechanism that drove oil-aggregate collision was the settling velocity of aggregates as they sank through the water column.

The team concluded that droplet-aggregate collision predictions in scenarios when multiple mechanisms are equally important require an equation that includes the combined effects of differential settling and turbulent shear. The researchers suggested that future work focus on deriving this equation. Variano is also taking his work in the direction of understanding sediment and oil dynamics in wetlands.

The study’s authors are Ruth A. Lambert and Evan A. Variano.

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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).

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 Boater’s Guide on Handling Oil and Fuel Spills: Now in Spanish, Vietnamese & Puerto Rican Spanish

Brochure for boater's on oil and fuel spills.

Click to download in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and  Puerto Rican Spanish.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is pleased to announce a new Sea Grant informational brochure just in time for the summer boating season. The one-page guide gives boaters information on how to prepare for, respond to, and report an accidental oil or fuel spill on their vessels.

A Boater’s Guide to Handling Oil and Fuel Spills, which is available on waterproof paper, provides a list of products to prevent and/or contain leaking oil and fuel and contact information for authorities in every Gulf state.

Want a waterproof, hard copy of this guide?  Contact Tara Skelton, Sea Grant Oil Spill Outreach Team member, at tara.skelton@usm.edu.

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.

Information about upcoming Sea Grant science seminars and recently-held events is available here. 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).

Study Finds Low Oil Concentrations Impair Self-Preservation Behaviors in Coral Reef Fish Larvae

This study (Nature Ecology & Evolution, Johansen et al., 2017) used larval fishes like this. Image by Jacob Johansen.

This study (Nature Ecology & Evolution, Johansen et al., 2017) used larval fishes like this. Image by Jacob Johansen.

Researchers from the United States, Australia, and Europe conducted mesocosm experiments to assess how larval reef fishes respond physiologically and cognitively to low crude oil concentrations. The team observed that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), at levels recorded in industrialized sections of tropical coral reefs worldwide, increased larvae mortality and stunted growth rates. The larvae exhibited altered habitat settlement and antipredator behaviors that made them more susceptible to predation, including reduced ability to identify a healthy reef with food and hiding places, reduced shoaling (seeking safety in numbers), and increased risk taking (moving away from shelter). These results provide new insights into the impacts of industrial oil pollution in sensitive coral reef ecosystems. The researchers published their findings in Nature Ecology & EvolutionOil exposure disrupts early life-history stages of coral reef fishes via behavioural impairments.

Coral reefs are among the most threatened ecosystems on the planet, with 19% disappearing in the last 35 years and a further 15% reduction expected in 10-20 years. An estimated 400 million people globally depend on coral reefs for subsistence, and reef ecosystems provide an estimated $30 billion in annual revenue from fisheries and tourism. Most reef fish species experience a pelagic larval phase when they develop traits related to finding a habitat, food, and avoiding predators. Increased mortality during this sensitive stage may have ecological consequences, including a reduced abundance of keystone species.

“LD50 studies (meaning the Lethal Dose where 50% of exposed individuals die) have been used to establish the limits of pollution that are presently acceptable due to industry,” explained study author Jacob Johansen. “However, recent advances in our understanding of toxicants have revealed detrimental responses in many animals at concentrations that are much lower than the LD50 dose required to immediately kill. These revelations sparked the necessity of this low-exposure study.”

Mesocosm experiments used larval fishes (six species spanning two distinct evolutionary families) caught around Lizard Island Research Station in the northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Oil-exposure treatments used high-energy water accommodated fractions (HEWAFs) from naturally weathered crude oil (collected in June 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico) for 24 hours. HEWAF solutions contained PAH concentrations (2.5 and 5.7 μgl-1) that can be found in coastal waters and sediments worldwide (0.1 to more than 600 μgl −1 Readman, J.W. et al 2002Douben, P.E. 2003Basheer, C. et al 2003El-Sikaily, A. et al 2003Jones, R 2010Kroon, F.J. et al 2015).

Compared to control larvae, oil-exposed larvae grew approximately 10.5% less and had an 11% increase in latent mortality despite unlimited food and no predators. In mesocosms with corals, sand, and coral rubble, 70% to 95% of control larvae preferred high-complexity reef habitats to medium- and low-complexity habitats and completely avoided sand habitats, which provided no refuge. Conversely, 14% to 33% of oil-exposed fish chose the sand habitat with declining settlement frequency on other habitat types. Oil-exposed larvae formed 28% to 35% smaller shoals compared to controls and exhibited a 1.25 to 2.4 fold increase in movement between habitats and time spent in open areas. As a result of these altered anti-predatory behaviors, oil-exposed fish exhibited a 2.7 fold increase in mortality over the approximate 10% predation-related mortality rate seen in controls and under natural conditions.

“It is crucial to fully understand how polluting industrial activities affect sensitive and declining ecosystems. This needs to happen before the perpetual natural and economic value of those ecosystems is put at risk,” said Johansen. “Our study provides a suite of new experimental approaches that can be used to evaluate pollutant impacts beyond the standard LD50 trials.”

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N7NK3C36 and doi:10.7266/N7T72FH4.

The study’s authors are Jacob L. Johansen, Bridie J.M. Allan, Jodie L. Rummer, and Andrew J. Esbaugh.

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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. Other funding sources included the Lizard Island Research 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).

ACER Consortium Education & Outreach Fact Sheets

ACERLogoThe 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.

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.

Introduction to ACER

4703_ACER_Factsheet_1_Intro

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A brief introduction to who ACER is and what we do. Click on the image or here to open the publication

ACER’s Consumer group

4703_ACER_Factsheet_2_Consumers

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The Consumer research group is focused on the top predators of the northern Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. Click on the image or here to open the publication

ACER’s Wetland group

4703_ACER_factsheet_3_Wetlands

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The Wetland research group is focused on the flora of our coastal wetlands and the fauna that use this habitat. Click on the image or here to open the publication

ACER’s Oyster group

4703_ACER_Factsheet_4_Oyster

Click image for PDF…

 

 

The Oyster research group is focused on the intertidal and subtidal oyster reefs along the northern Gulf Coast. Click on the image or here to open the publication

ACER’s Nitrogen Cycling group

4703_ACER_Factsheet_5_NCycling

Click image for PDF…

 

The Nitrogen Cycling research group is focused on the processes that convert nitrogen from one form to another in coastal habitats. Click on the image or here to open the publication

Grad Student Rohal Examines Tiny Organisms to Understand Deep-Sea Ecosystems

Melissa identifies a copepod at the Copepod workshop in South Korea. (Provided by Melissa Rohal)

Melissa identifies a copepod at the Copepod workshop in South Korea. (Provided by Melissa Rohal)

Meiofauna provide important ecosystem services such as waste removal to the deep sea-floor environment and can act as indicators of ecosystem health. Because meiofauna live a largely sedentary life due to their small size and sediment habitat, they are often unable to escape an area affected by unusual disturbances, such as the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Melissa Rohal is investigating how oiling affects deep-sea meiofauna and how quickly their populations can recover. Her research combines community structure and function studies with modeling and socioeconomics studies to answer the question, “Do meiofauna matter?”

“There is still so much to discover and understand about the deep sea, and many of the meiofauna specimens we find in our samples are new species,” said Melissa. “Understanding the importance of these microscopic animals is becoming critical as more focus shifts to natural resources in the deep sea.”

Melissa is a Coastal and Marine System Science Ph.D. student with the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and a GoMRI Scholar with the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems II (C-IMAGE II).

Her Path

Melissa stands next to the multi-corer used to collect sediment samples. (Photo by Ben Prueitt)

Melissa stands next to the multi-corer used to collect sediment samples. (Photo by Ben Prueitt)

Melissa became interested in the ocean as a child during visits to her grandparents’ home on Jekyll Island, Georgia. When she realized that little is known about our oceans, she was inspired to become an oceanographer; however, she was unsure of which area of oceanography to pursue. She took a broad range of courses at Coastal Carolina University’s marine science program that introduced her to the physical, geological, biological, and chemical aspects of oceanography. She also began an internship at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and assisted her professors with their research. These experiences helped her discover that, rather than wanting to work with dolphins or fish, she wanted to help solve the mysteries of the ocean depths.

Following her undergraduate career, Melissa worked in the Shores and Aquarium department of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell, Ohio, and later as a marine mammal observer aboard a seismic vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. She loved being out at sea, so she applied to graduate school and accepted a position working with Dr. David Thistle at Florida State University. Her master’s work with Thistle introduced her to microscopic animals called meiofauna, which she calls her “little aliens.”

Melissa and Travis Washburn slice a sediment core for analysis. (Photo by Ben Prueitt)

Melissa and Travis Washburn slice a sediment core for analysis. (Photo by Ben Prueitt)

While at a Benthic Ecology Meeting, Melissa attended Dr. Paul Montagna’s lecture about the effects of Deepwater Horizon on benthic meiofauna and discovered that he had an open graduate student position. Hoping to remain in the benthic ecology field, Melissa contacted Montagna and began a doctoral program working in his laboratory at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. Montagna later received a GoMRI-funded grant to study the effects of the oil spill, making it possible for Melissa to focus her research on seafloor-dwelling meiofauna.

Her Work

Melissa used a three-fold approach to study the effects of oil on deep-sea meiofauna and their environment. First, she input observational data and data collected from experimental toxicity studies into a fisheries modeling software called Ecopath, which helped her understand food web connectivity in the deep-sea and identify depletions in meiofauna. Next, she collaborated with fellow C-IMAGE Ph.D. student Justine van Eenennaam in the Netherlands who ran laboratory experiments looking at the response of the benthic community to Deepwater Horizon. Justine added marine snow and Macondo source oil into an aquarium containing benthic animals and then counted the animals present, including meiofauna, 80 days later to determine how the animals were affected. She sent the results and samples from the experiment to Melissa for further study.

The crew of the 2016 C-IMAGE Mud and Blood cruise. (Provided by C-IMAGE)

Crew of the 2016 C-IMAGE Mud & Blood cruise. ( Provided by C-IMAGE)

Melissa’s current and final step examines the meiofauna’s post-spill recovery. She and her colleagues determine recovery using sediment samples collected from the 1979 Ixtoc-I oil spill site. They use a microscope to sort and count the number of meiofauna in the samples and compare the results from cores containing Ixtoc-I oil to those without. “In the lab, we essentially play a game of hide and seek as we try to find the animals in the sediment, but I’ll admit we do cheat a little bit and dye these animals pink so we can find them more easily,” joked Melissa.

Melissa’s observations about pollution in sediment around the Ixtoc-I oil spill site will serve as a significant analog for researchers estimating the long-term effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident. Her findings about deep-sea meiofauna’s loss and recovery will inform ecosystem-modeling studies and assist decision makers and response managers who handle future oil spills.

Her Learning

Melissa and the participants of the 2017 Benthic Invertebrate Taxonomy, Metagenomics, and Bioinformatics (BITMaB)workshop, sponsored by GOMRI, view copepod taxonomy. (Provided by Melissa Rohal)

Melissa and the participants of the 2017 Benthic Invertebrate Taxonomy, Metagenomics, and Bioinformatics (BITMaB)workshop, sponsored by GOMRI, view copepod taxonomy. (Provided by Melissa Rohal)

Melissa cherishes the opportunities that her research has given her to work and communicate with scientists from many disciplines and backgrounds. She attended the annual International Meiofauna Conference in South Korea and Crete, where she connected with researchers with whom she still communicates and collaborates today. “It was an eye-opening experience to meet and talk with experts and students from around the world who share the same interests. It has led to a number of international collaborations, particularly with regards to the taxonomic identification of meiofauna, for which few experts remain within the United States,” said Melissa.

Melissa participated in the NSF-sponsored East Asian and Pacific Summer Institutes for Graduate Students, an eight-week summer program that provides science and engineering graduate students from the United States the opportunity to experience research environments, science and policy infrastructure, and languages of Pacific and East Asian nations. She spent two months in South Korea with Dr. Wonchoel Lee at Hanyang University learning to identify harpacticoid copepods. “There are few harpacticoid copepod taxonomists remaining in the United States,” said Melissa. “This opportunity improved my understanding of this second-largest group of meiofauna.”

Her Future

Melissa is exploring post-doc positions and private sector opportunities and wants to use her education and experience to help the world better understand the deep sea. She says that students considering a scientific career should never be afraid to ask questions about potential research opportunities.

“If you never ask, then you will never know,” she explained. “I fulfilled my dream of going down in a submersible simply by telling a Florida State University professor that it was my dream and to please let me know if the opportunity arose. I also fostered an international collaboration by asking if anyone at the International Meiofauna Conference was interested in conducting taxonomic studies on my master’s samples with me.”

Praise for Melissa

A reunion of the Montagna meiofauna lab. (L-R) Melissa, Wonchoel Lee, Hanan Mitwally, Paul Montagna, and Jeff Baguley take a group photo after Melissa won a student presentation award at the International Meiofauna Conference 2014. Woncheol was a postdoc, and Jeff and Hanan were Ph.D. students with Paul Montagna. (Provided by Melissa Rohal)

A reunion of the Montagna meiofauna lab. (L-R) Melissa, Wonchoel Lee, Hanan Mitwally, Paul Montagna, and Jeff Baguley take a group photo after Melissa won a student presentation award at the International Meiofauna Conference 2014. Woncheol was a postdoc, and Jeff and Hanan were Ph.D. students with Paul Montagna. (Provided by Melissa Rohal)

Montagna said that Melissa was a bright, motivated, and engaging student when he met her at the Benthic Ecology Meeting and was happy when she reached out to him about completing her doctorate. Her experience with deep-sea meiofauna intrigued him because his research career had begun with meiofauna but switched to macrofauna for the last 20 years. “The idea of completing the circle by working with her was very satisfying to me. Her dissertation will blend the old with the new, because our approaches today are very different than they were 20 years ago.”

Montagna says that Melissa’s work is uncovering the importance of meiofauna to the natural world. “We are getting close to the end of her studies, and it’s becoming clear that the world would not work as well tomorrow if all the meiofauna disappear today,” he explained. “Answering this fundamental question [Do meiofauna matter?] that has stumped many over the last 50 years is a truly remarkable achievement.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Melissa Rohal 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 C-IMAGE website to learn more about their work.

The East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes student group. (Provided by Melissa Rohal)

The East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes student group. (Provided by Melissa Rohal)

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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).

Sea Grant to Host Oil Spill Seminars in October & November 2017

seagrant_logoThe Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Team would like to announce the second of three Responding to oil spills seminars, an all-day free event in Mobile, Alabama, to discuss the unique challenges to responding to oil spills affecting beach and nearshore environments (see below and attached). The event is open to the public and lunch will be provided for registered participants. As with all of our workshops, a live, interactive webcast will be available for anyone who cannot attend in person.

At each workshop, researchers and emergency responders will explain how science is currently incorporated into response efforts and discuss ways this process may be improved. To register for either meeting or to sign up for the remote webcast, click the links below.

Click here for flyer…

Study Characterizes Oil and Gas Bubbles Released from Natural Hydrocarbon Seeps

Researchers positioned a newly-designed high-definition video camera in front of natural hydrocarbon vents and recorded bubble behavior at two GC600 seeps (C) 2-day deployment and (D), 26-day deployment (Figure 2 in publication, used with permission)

Researchers positioned a newly-designed high-definition video camera in front of natural hydrocarbon vents and recorded bubble behavior at two GC600 seeps (C) 2-day deployment and (D), 26-day deployment (Figure 2 in publication, used with permission)

Scientists video recorded bubbles released from natural seafloor seeps in the Gulf of Mexico to determine the rate and volume of oil and gas released. The researchers observed that oily bubbles were larger and released more slowly than gaseous or mixed (part-oil, part-gas) bubbles. This study is the first attempt of long-term camera deployment at deep-sea vents. The researchers published their findings in Marine and Petroleum GeologyTime series video analysis of bubble release processes at natural hydrocarbon seeps in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.

Researchers in earlier studies estimated the size distribution, behavior, and fate of gaseous bubbles rising from natural hydrocarbon seeps using a “snapshot” video footage lasting seconds to minutes separated by significant time gaps. The authors in this study contend that deployments of autonomous camera systems lasting days to months are necessary to capture the temporal and spatial variability, biological effects, and changing content of oil and gas bubbles.

The team analyzed bubbles rising from two natural seep sites, lease block GC600 (1200 m depth in an oil producing area) and MC118 (850 m depth), from imagery collected by a compact camera (640×480 pixel resolution, 1 frame/4 seconds) and a newly designed time-lapse camera (1080×1920 pixel resolution, 29 frames/second). State-of-the-art reproducible image processing techniques that the team developed helped them determine the bubble type (oily, gaseous, and mixed), size distribution, release rate, and temporal variation. They also developed an algorithm to analyze bubble count and release rates from the video data.

Two vents at GC600 released oily bubbles with an average 5 mm diameter and rates from 1.3 to 4.7 bubbles per second. Two different vents at GC600 released mixtures of oily and gaseous bubbles with an average 3.9 mm diameter at rates ranging from 49 to 81 bubbles per second. The vent at MC118 released gaseous bubbles with an average 3 mm diameter at a rate of 127 bubbles per second. While other factors may affect bubble size and speed (vent size, pressure, migration pathways in sediment, and gas hydrate mounds), the researchers’ observations confirm that the bubbles are larger and slower when more oil is present.

The vent at MC118 developed a significant lag (±6 h) in bubble release as neap tide approached. The team hypothesized that this observed sensitivity to tidal fluctuations could be related to the site’s shallow depth compared to the other study sites or the lack of oily components in bubbles. While the team’s observations suggested a correlation between tides and bubble release, their findings were not consistent enough at GC600 to generate a firm conclusion.

Study author Ian MacDonald explained that these findings are the beginning of an intensive study focusing on natural hydrocarbon seep dynamics and the geophysical processes associated with bubble release, “The present results contribute to ongoing research that seeks to model the transfer of petrocarbon from subsea reservoirs, through seeps, and into the water column.” Such findings are needed to better understand the role seeps play to mineralize and sequester oil that might otherwise enter the environment.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at 10.7266/N7M906N3.

The study’s authors are Caroline JohansenAustin C. Todd, and Ian MacDonald.

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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 National Science Foundation (EF-0801741).

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 Xue Uses Light to Characterize Oil Plume Fragmentation

Xinzhi adjusts the laser optics for particle image velocimetry experiments. (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

Xinzhi adjusts the laser optics for particle image velocimetry experiments. (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

Laser light and high-speed cameras can help researchers observe the behavior of oil droplets within a laboratory-simulated oil plume and interpret how the oil subsequently may move through the water column. Xinzhi Xue uses lasers to non-invasively probe inside the oil plume and get a detailed look at the oil fragmentation process. “This knowledge is crucial to understanding oil spill impacts and recovery and is potentially relevant to geophysical and engineering applications ranging from fuel spray in aerospace propulsion systems to inkjet printing,” he said.

Xinzhi is a Ph.D. student in Johns Hopkins University’s Mechanical Engineering Program with focus on fluid mechanics and a GoMRI Scholarwith the Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies II (DROPPS II) consortium.

His Path

 

Xinzhi conducts his research in John Hopkins University’s wind tunnel and wave tank laboratory. (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

Xinzhi conducts his research in John Hopkins University’s wind tunnel and wave tank laboratory. (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

Xinzhi’s parents, who are both engineers, sparked his interest in science. He conducted experiments with his father as a child, such as creating a paper pot capable of boiling water. Those small but fascinating scientific activities and his first trip on an airplane at age six were the greatest triggers for Xinzhi’s love of science. “It was rare at that time for kids to experience [a plane trip], because we live in a small town near the border between China and Russia,” he said. “That trip was a summation of all the [earlier] science experiments. I was amazed by everything.”

 

The laser set up in operation as former postdoc David Murphy and fellow Ph.D. student Kaushik Sampath monitor the results in the background. (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

The laser set up in operation as former postdoc David Murphy and fellow Ph.D. student Kaushik Sampath monitor the results in the background. (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

Xinzhi took an introductory fluid dynamics class as an exchange student at Purdue University and was amazed at the wide range of applications. He completed his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at China’s Harbin Institute of Technology and applied to the Ph.D. program in fluid dynamics at Johns Hopkins University where Dr. Joseph Katz is a co-Principle Investigator of a Deepwater Horizon oil spill study. Xinzhi was eager to apply his studies to a real world problem with which he personally connected. “My grandparents and parents were in the petroleum industry. Eventually life brought me petroleum-related research,” he said. “It was devastating to see the Gulf of Mexico get tremendously oil polluted during [Deepwater Horizon], not to mention the platform workers who were killed in the explosion. I felt a sense of responsibility as a researcher and engineer to make better and safer designs and provide data for predicting oil fate so responders could make well-informed decisions.”

His Work

Xinzhi analyses data from his plume experiments in his office at Johns Hopkins University. (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

Xinzhi analyses data from his plume experiments in his office at Johns Hopkins University. (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

Subsurface oil blowouts create turbulent oil plumes that quickly break up into droplets, which either rise to the surface or become trapped in the water column. Xinzhi’s previous experiments conducted alongside Dr. David Murphy and Kaushik Sampath found that when a crude oil plume interacts with the surrounding water moving around its escape point, the plume that forms consists of whirlpool-like flows that significantly affect how oil droplets are distributed. When mixed with chemical dispersant, crude oil plumes generate dramatically smaller droplets that are more easily entrained in large-scale vortex structures. His current research focuses on better understanding the mechanisms driving plume fragmentation.

Xinzhi illuminates the oil plume with a laser and then uses florescent and particle image velocimetry to observe the distribution of the plume’s oil phase and calculate the flow velocity field inside and outside the plume. When analyzing liquid-liquid flows (such as crude oil in sea water), optical diagnostics are limited when the two liquids’ refractive indexes (the extent that light bends when entering a material) are mismatched and cause optical distortions. Xinzhi avoids these limitations using surrogates for oil and water that have matching refractive indices. This method allows him to observe the center of the plume and quantify the oil fragmentation process in detail.

Simultaneous images of the plume depict a) oil phase fluorescence, b) velocity and vorticity distributions, and c) overlaid distributions of oil phase (white) and the strain rate magnitude. (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

Simultaneous images of the plume depict a) oil phase fluorescence, b) velocity and vorticity distributions, and c) overlaid distributions of oil phase (white) and the strain rate magnitude. (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

He has found that as oil plumes develop, they often entrain ambient water, which then becomes encapsulated inside oil ligaments and forms hollow, water-filled oil droplets that his team refers to as “Russian doll” droplets. These multilayer droplets often act significantly different than simple droplets because their changed buoyancy affects their movement through the water. Xinzhi said that the subsequent transport of multilayer droplets is distinct from the surrounding oil and that dispersion models should account for this phenomenon. “The presence of Russian doll droplets can change the surface area between oil and water, making them potentially important when considering the gas diffusion and heat transfer aspect of oil droplets in the subsurface environment,” he explained.

Xinzhi hopes that his previous research on dispersant and oil plumes can help improve concentration guidelines for future dispersant deployments. His work could also provide experiment data and dynamics for liquid atomization, droplet breakup, and collision statistics, which could help future responders better understand oil breakup and how previously unexplored phenomenon, such as “Russian doll” droplets, affect the oil fragmentation process.

His Learning

Xinzhi operates the towing tank carriage. (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

Xinzhi operates the towing tank carriage. (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

The most valuable lesson Xinzhi learned from his advisor is the importance of doubt. When presenting Katz with his experiment plans, Xinzhi faced questions from Katz about the logic behind his plan and its potential faults. Although the process was often stressful and frustrating, it taught him how to improve as a researcher. “It is that spirit of doubt and curiosity that leads us to concrete facts and drives people closer to the truth,” he said. “I now always ask myself those same probing questions.”

One of Xinzhi’s favorite memories is when he showed Katz the jet fragmentation data he collected using a high-magnification high-speed camera. It was the first detailed quantitative data of the plume’s center and best representation of the Russian doll droplets. Katz’s first reaction was to praise the beauty of the images before addressing their scientific aspects. Xinzhi explained, “Nothing compares with nature revealing its beauty before your eyes for the first time. It gave me a great appreciation for my work after all those late nights in the lab.”

His Future

An overlaid image depicts the distribution of oil phase (white) and velocity vector (blue). Red circles identify significant entrainment inside the larger coherent structure (green circles). (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

An overlaid image depicts the distribution of oil phase (white) and velocity vector (blue). Red circles identify significant entrainment inside the larger coherent structure (green circles). (Provided by Xinzhi Xue)

Xinzhi hopes to apply the technology and management skills he gained through his Ph.D. and GoMRI research to a position in academia, consulting, or industry. He wants to inspire the next generation of scientists the way that science and engineering inspired him. Xinzhi related his aspirations to musical conductor Benjamin Zander’s theory that a conductor’s power comes from his ability to make others powerful and put a shine in their eyes. “I’ve seen Hopkins professors’ shining eyes when talking about their research,” he said. “I hope I’ll also be someone who has shining eyes and makes other peoples’ eyes light up.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Xinzhi Xue 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 DROPPS 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 Assesses How Sunlight and Microbial Degradation Affect Oil-Derived Sand Patties

Sand patties that researchers found in the swash zone of Gulf of Mexico beaches contain approximately 10-15% oil. Photo provided by Joseph M. Suflita.

Sand patties that researchers found in the swash zone of Gulf of Mexico beaches contain approximately 10-15% oil. Photo provided by Joseph M. Suflita.

Researchers analyzed the combined effects of photooxidation and biodegradation on sand patties associated with the Deepwater Horizon incident. The scientists found that irradiation contributed to increased concentrations of dissolved organic carbon, which leached from sand patties penetrated by seawater. The dissolved organic carbon was more susceptible to aerobic biodegradation compared to control treatments. These findings represent previously unrecognized advanced weathering processes that are important to the ultimate transformation of spilled crude oil. The researchers published their findings in Environmental Science & TechnologyImpact of photooxidation and biodegradation on the fate of oil spilled during the Deepwater Horizon incident: advanced stages of weathering.

The environmental weathering of oil can alter its composition and result in a chemical fingerprint significantly different from the crude oil released at the wellhead. This transformation generates partially oxidized compounds called “oxyhydrocarbons” that often wash ashore as sand patties, where they are further degraded by microbes and sunlight. This study advances our understanding about the long-term fate and environmental effects of oxyhydrocarbons deposited on beaches.

The team used a radiotracer (35SO4-2) to track how seawater penetrated into sand patties during and after 3 to 12 hours of artificial sunlight exposure (equivalent to 0.75 to 3 days of average sunlight in the northern Gulf of Mexico) and in control treatments (non-irradiated or dark). Then, using Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance Mass Spectrometry and a variety of optical measurements, the team characterized the sand patty-derived organic matter and both before and after biodegradation experiments.

Researchers collected these highly weathered sand patties in about an hour along Gulf of Mexico beaches. Photo provided by Joseph M. Suflita.

Researchers collected these highly weathered sand patties in about an hour along Gulf of Mexico beaches. Photo provided by Joseph M. Suflita.

The radiocarbon tracer penetrated readily into the sand patties, despite the expectation that the residual hydrocarbons might be hydrophobic and resist water penetration. The composition of dissolved organic material that leached into seawater did not inhibit microbial respiration. Rather, microbial oxygen consumption was significantly higher in irradiated treatments than controls, suggesting that photooxidation accelerates the aerobic degradation of dissolved organic material.

Study author Joseph Suflita explained more about the residual products from advanced weathering, “Spill weathering produces more polar and aqueous-soluble components that are far more difficult to detect and not routinely monitored [compared to hydrocarbons], and thus are a greater exposure risk to sea creatures and the public.”

Suflita said a growing body of evidence suggests that partially weathered hydrocarbon-derived components may be at least as inhibitory as the oil itself, but by different mechanisms. He advocates for improved methods to assess and measure this more subtle form of environmental contamination, “The quantitative importance, environmental fate, and toxicological impact of the thousands of partially oxidized oil-derived compounds that are leached during oil weathering processes to various environmental compartments are simply not known.”

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N75Q4T6B.

The study’s authors are Brian H. Harriman, Phoebe Zito, David C. PodgorskiMatthew A. Tarr, and Joseph M. Suflita.

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This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the University of New Orleans, Tulane University, and the University of Oklahoma for their project Effect of Photochemistry on Biotransformation of Crude Oil. Other funding sources included the National Science Foundation (DMR-1157490), the State of Florida, and the FSU Future Fuels Institute.

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).

Video Shows New Research Tactics for Mahi-Mahi Tagging

A mahi is loaded into a recovery tank after tagging. (Provided by RECOVER)

A mahi is loaded into a recovery tank after tagging. (Provided by RECOVER)

Data and pictures from before and after a disaster help us understand the impacts of an event; however, the “before” is not always available. Researchers with the RECOVER consortium have found through oil-exposure laboratory studies that the Deepwater Horizon incident may have negatively affected mahi-mahi’s heart function, vision, and swim performance. To get the “before” data on mahi-mahi behavior, the researchers are using data-collecting tags to explore how the fish behave in the wild under typical conditions for comparison studies.

Researchers work together to lower a mahi into an oxygenated bin that will help keep the fish healthy during the tagging process. (Provided by RECOVER)

Researchers work together to lower a mahi into an oxygenated bin that will help keep the fish healthy during the tagging process. (Provided by RECOVER)

During a recent expedition, researchers aboard the R/V Walton Smith used a new tag-and-release strategy for mahi-mahi. Tagged fish were held in 1,320-gallon tanks for 24 hours, allowing the fish to recover from angling and handling stress. Because tags used in previous expeditions have not stayed with the fish longer than 10 days, the team hypothesized that the increased recovery time before release would improve tag retention and fish survivability. The most recent feedback proved this hypothesis to be correct as tag retention more than doubled. The pop-up satellite archival tags that the researchers are using collect acceleration information (which helps determine if the fish is spawning) as well as water temperature, depth, and migration data. The team hopes to collect up to 96 days of data using this new tactic.

PhD student Lela Schlenker holds a device used to outfit captured mahi with data-collecting tags. (Provided by RECOVER)

PhD student Lela Schlenker holds a device used to outfit captured mahi with data-collecting tags. (Provided by RECOVER)

The concept may seem simple at first, but catching, tagging, holding, and releasing these large fish is challenging. Miss Britt Charters, an experienced Miami-based fishing charter, accompanied the R/V Walton Smith on their recent expedition. The charter’s crew used their fishing experience to identify schools of mahi, then relayed that information to the R/V Walton Smith crew, who traveled to the location.

Anglers from the RECOVER team onboard Miss Britt hooked mahi using rods and reels and sent the hooked lines to the research team. Then the research team guided each fish into a sling, carried it across the deck of the vessel, and placed the sling and fish into a shallow tank of oxygenated water. Once there, the researchers de-hooked, measured, and tagged each fish before moving it into a recovery tank onboard the vessel. This process typically took less than two minutes to complete from sling to recovery tank. Once the 24-hour recover period ended, the researchers used the sling to return the fish to the sea.

John Stieglitz and Lela Schelnker release a mahi back into the ocean after tagging and recovering for 24 hours. (Provided by RECOVER)

John Stieglitz and Lela Schelnker release a mahi back into the ocean after tagging and recovering for 24 hours. (Provided by RECOVER)

The expedition successfully tagged and released nine adult mahi. Since the tagging, all tags have detached and are transmitting the collected data to satellites, and an extensive amount of data now awaits detailed analyses. “This is the first time an experiment like this has been done, and it’s incredible to see fish swim off healthy at the end of it,” said RECOVER Ph.D. student Lela Schlenker, the lead scientist on the expedition. “It’ll be exciting to see where these fish go, how they travel, and what sort of environments they’re in. This is really important information for managing mahi-mahi and learning more about their ecology.”


A trailer for an upcoming documentary highlighting the team’s innovative research efforts.
(Credit: RECOVER)

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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).

Study Finds Different Avoidance Behaviors in Estuarine Fish to Oiled Sediment

Sheepshead minnow. Photo credit: C. Filosa

Sheepshead minnow. Photo credit: C. Filosa

A Louisiana State University researcher conducted laboratory experiments to learn how estuarine fish behave around sediments containing varying concentrations of weathered and fresh oil. He observed that fish exhibited a stronger avoidance response to medium and high concentrations of fresh oil compared to low concentrations and observed no significant avoidance of any weathered oil concentrations. The fishes’ behavior may have lessened their exposure to compounds associated with the Deepwater Horizon spill and may have offered some resilience to negative effects. The researcher published his findings in Marine Ecology Progress SeriesAvoidance of oil contaminated sediments by estuarine fishes.

Studies on oil spill impacts on coastal fishes have produced complex results, with laboratory experiments indicating negative effects on fish physiology yet field assessments often identifying few impacts to abundance and biomass. One explanation for this discrepancy is that organisms that can move may avoid oil, which was very patchily distributed. This study used Gulf killifish, sheepshead minnow, and sailfin molly (indicator species that are important to the marsh food web as predators and prey) to examine their potential to detect and avoid oil.

Sailfin mollies. Photo credit: C. Filosa

Sailfin mollies. Photo credit: C. Filosa

The researcher used BP surrogate oil and sediment from unoiled marsh areas to create habitats in which fish could swim. A 38-liter tank had one end with sediment containing low, medium, or high concentrations (10, 20, and 40 ml oil 1-1 of sediment) of fresh oil (consistent with oiling found in field studies Turner et al, 2014 and Turner et al, 2014) or artificially weathered oil and the other end had sediment with no oil treatment. Fish swam for ten-minute trials during which time the researcher documented their movement and time spent in the two ends of the tank.

All three species exhibited strong responses to high and medium concentrations of fresh oil. Response to low concentrations of fresh oil varied between species, with killifish displaying significant avoidance of low concentrations of fresh oil and sheepshead minnow exhibiting moderate avoidance. Sailfin molly did not have a significant response to low concentrations of fresh oil. None of the species displayed changed behavior patterns in the presence of weathered oil.

Gulf killifish. Photo credit: C. Filosa

Gulf killifish. Photo credit: C. Filosa

Study author Charles Martin discussed the fish’s response to weathered oil, “This is very important because weathering began as soon as oil came out of the pipe at depth, and by the time it reached inshore areas much of the oil had degraded considerably from wave action, ultraviolet light, and other factors. As oil weathers, the most toxic chemicals precipitate and are lost.” He suggested that weathered oil may not be as toxic to these fish and that weathering may remove the toxic compounds that cue avoidance behavior. An exception to this is that oil protected from weathering in the center of tarballs or buried in the sediment may reach inshore areas as fresh, unweathered oil.

Martin recommended that future studies focus on isolating individual oil compounds that may trigger the observed avoidance behaviors and assess the sublethal effects of weathered oil (growth, reproduction, foraging). He also cautioned that experiments should use an appropriate amount of weathering that is indicative of actual exposure levels to their model ecosystem.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N7NV9G95.

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

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

© 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 Bhalerao Analyzes Food Webs of Horse Fly Larvae to Assess Marsh Health

Devika and Chinmay Tikhe floating tabanid larvae out of marsh sediments. (Photo by Claudia Husseneder)

Devika and Chinmay Tikhe floating tabanid larvae out of marsh sediments. (Photo by Claudia Husseneder)

Greenhead horse fly larvae are the top invertebrate predator in the Spartinamarshes along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Adult and larval horseflies exhibited reduced genetic variation and population declines in oiled marshes after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which suggests that these organisms could be an indicator species for post-spill marsh health. Devika Bhalerao uses DNA analyses to identify organisms important to the larvae’s survival and determine if oiling alters the presence of various organisms in the food web. Her findings will help develop analytical tools that ecologists can use to evaluate the health of tidal marshes.

Devika is an entomology master’s student at Louisiana State University (LSU) and a GoMRI Scholar with the GoMRI-funded project A Study of Horse Fly (Tabanidae) Populations and Their Food Web Dynamics as Indicators of the Effects of Environmental Stress on Coastal Marsh Health led by Lane Foil and Claudia Husseneder.

Her Path

Devika Bhalerao. (Photo by Claudia Husseneder)

Devika Bhalerao. (Photo by Claudia Husseneder)

Devika’s love for biology began when her mother taught biology to local children in Devika’s childhood home of India. Devika discovered a more focused interest in molecular biology and genomic research while studying as a microbiology undergraduate student at Pune University in India. She gained more genomics experience through the Pune University microbiology master’s program where she used metagenomics to decode the microbiome of the rural Indian population.

Devika attended a presentation about using metagenomics in insect systems given by Chinmay Tikhe, a Ph.D. student in Dr. Claudia Husseneder’s LSU Agricultural Center lab. She contacted Husseneder to learn more about their project and the use of metagenomics to describe the food web of horsefly larvae in Louisiana marshes. “The prospect of using the latest techniques such as next-generation sequencing and metagenomics bioinformatics to figure out how the marsh ecosystem functioned made me excited about this research,” she said. Devika joined the Husseneder lab in spring 2015 as an entomology master’s student.

Her Work

A greenhead horse fly larva. (Photo by Claudia Husseneder)

A greenhead horse fly larva. (Photo by Claudia Husseneder)

Devika analyzes the greenhead horse fly larval food web to identify organisms in marsh soil that are important for sustaining this top invertebrate predator. She extracts DNA from the larvae’s gut contents and the surrounding sediments from oiled and unoiled marshes and multiplies a specific DNA region called the 18SrRNA gene using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification technique. She then applies next-generation sequencing to the 18SrRNA gene and compares the resulting sequences to a gene database to identify the organisms present in the gut contents and sediment. This information helps her analyze which organisms in the marsh soil are important for sustaining the greenhead horse fly larvae.

An adult greenhead horse fly. (Photo by Claudia Husseneder)

An adult greenhead horse fly. (Photo by Claudia Husseneder)

Devika’s research has shown that most species that are present in the larvae’s gut contents belong to insect and fungi families. Her next steps will compare food webs from oiled and unoiled areas to identify if any food web components are missing from oiled marshes. She and her colleagues will use the bioindicators that she identifies to develop a cost-efficient and user-friendly PCR tool capable of determining marsh health.

“My research is the first study of an apex invertebrate predator food web in coastal Spartina marshes with the purpose of identifying the food web’s key elements,” said Devika. “Since greenhead horse flies are associated with Spartina marshes spanning from Texas to Nova Scotia, this study could develop techniques that can monitor the health of coastal marshes across the entire eastern United States.”

Her Learning

Working in Husseneder’s lab taught Devika how difficult it can be to collect larvae in the field. The collection process requires the entire team to devote considerable amounts of time, diligence, and patience to processing many buckets of sediment for only a few larvae. She considers attending the 2017 Benthic Invertebrates, Metagenomics, and Bioinformatics (BITMaB) workshop organized by GoMRI researcher Dr. Kelley Thomas to be the greatest advantage she experienced as a member of the GoMRI scientific community. “The workshop was a game changer in my research,” she said. “I could use the techniques I learned at the workshop to conduct the bioinformatics of my study myself. In my pursuit to acquire advanced molecular techniques, learning to use Quantitative Insights into Microbial Ecology (QIIME) techniques was the cherry on the cake.”

Devika standing by her poster at an entomology conference. (Provided by Claudia Husseneder)

Devika standing by her poster at an entomology conference. (Provided by Claudia Husseneder)

Devika has won several awards for her poster and oral presentations, including the 2016 International Congress of Entomology’s Graduate Student Poster Competition award for ecology and population dynamics and a travel award for the LSU Coastal Connections Competition. “The presentation that won me the travel award was extremely challenging, because I had to explain my entire research in three minutes in layman’s terms using only two slides without animation,” she said. She also won the Outstanding Masters Oral Presentation Competition at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Branch of the Entomological Society of America. “This award was memorable because later at an informal meeting one of the judges commended me on my presentation and said that it stood out,” recalls Devika.

Her Future

Devika plans to pursue a Ph.D. program that uses her molecular biology skills. She advises students considering a career in science to find ways to expand their skill sets. “Keep updating your current skill set and acquiring new skills in your field and stay abreast of the latest research in fields besides your own,” she said. “It can open avenues to apply your skill sets in new systems.”

Praise for Devika

Husseneder described Devika as a bright and dedicated student with a knack for figuring things out – a perfect fit for a project handling massive amounts of data and statistics. Even after the BITMaB workshop ended, Devika continued teaching herself how to use the complex statistics associated with environmental metagenomics, which she shares with students from other departments. She also teaches undergraduate students and fellow graduate students how to use DNA sequencing to identify arthropods found in marshes. “Devika is an invaluable part of our team,” said Husseneder.

Devika (middle row, center) and Husseneder (middle row, far right) pose for a group photo with their research team. (Photo by Claudia Husseneder)

Devika (middle row, center) and Husseneder (middle row, far right) pose for a group photo with their research team. (Photo by Claudia Husseneder)

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Devika Bhalerao 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.

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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 Describes How Autonomous Surface Vehicles Improve Marine Mammal Monitoring

An autonomous surface vehicle (ASV C-Worker 6) conducts passive acoustic monitoring in the northern Gulf of Mexico, summer 2017. Photo credit: Chris Pierpoint, LADC-GEMM consortium

An autonomous surface vehicle (ASV C-Worker 6) conducts passive acoustic monitoring in the northern Gulf of Mexico, summer 2017. Photo credit: Chris Pierpoint, LADC-GEMM consortium

Scientists conducted passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) of whales in the northern Gulf of Mexico using two autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs) capable of recording marine mammal sounds. The researchers observed that ASVs required fewer personnel and created less noise compared to research vessels. ASVs provided a novel, cost-efficient, and quiet approach and expanded the range of frequencies and distances that a vessel-towed survey can monitor. Data from the ASVs and other acoustic surveys in the area will help scientists monitor the Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s long-term effects on marine mammals. The researchers published their findings in OCEANS 2016 MTS/IEEE MontereyUsing autonomous surface vehicles for passive acoustic monitoring (PAM).

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in an area of the Gulf of Mexico where marine mammals live and forage. Researchers tracked marine mammals near the spill site in 2007 and have continued to do so since then. The scientific community has steadily increased its use of PAM techniques to track marine mammals mainly because towed hydrophone arrays are easy to incorporate into research cruises for real-time data collection. However, large survey vessels that tow this equipment produce significant amounts of noise that can mask marine mammal sounds or disturb their populations.

This study’s researchers fitted two ASVs with towed hydrophone arrays configured to record marine mammal sounds, mounted them with a Seiche wireless communication system, and deployed them from the R/V Pelican for ten days. The two ASVs travelled at varying distances from the research vessel (500 – 1,000 m) to minimize noise from the support boat and optimize data collection.

An autonomous surface vehicle (ASV C-Worker 6, lower right corner) conducts Passive Acoustic Monitoring in the Mississippi Valley, Northern Gulf of Mexico, summer 2017. Photo credit: Chris Pierpoint, LADC-GEMM consortium

An autonomous surface vehicle (ASV C-Worker 6, lower right corner) conducts Passive Acoustic Monitoring in the Mississippi Valley, Northern Gulf of Mexico, summer 2017. Photo credit: Chris Pierpoint, LADC-GEMM consortium

The ASVs collected PAM data for phonations over a 20 Hz – 160 kHz range, which includes low-frequency whale calls and high-frequency echolocation pulses. The team used the Seiche system to monitor sounds in real time from the towed arrays and to detect, classify, and localize marine mammals. Automatic tonal detectors, mid- and high-frequency click detectors, and manual spectrograms helped the team search the recordings for sounds produced by Bryde’s whales, delphinid species, sperm whales, beaked whales, and Kogia (pygmy and dwarf sperm whales).

The team also deployed PAM systems on bottom-moored EARS (environmental acoustic recording system) buoys and a Kongsberg Seaglider AUV (automatic underwater vehicle), which remained in the study area for an extended time, continuously recording Gulf of Mexico soundscapes. Data collected from all three PAM platforms (ASV, bottom-moored buoy, and AUV) will help researchers determine geographic distributions and trends of the marine mammal population and help advance detection and classification algorithms.

Industry and governmental regulators are interested in autonomous, unmanned maritime systems as they offer greater efficiencies and cost savings than what has been available.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at 10.7266/N7222RSW.

The study’s authors are Andrew T. Ziegwied, Vince Dobbin, Sarah Dyer, Chris Pierpoint, and Natalia Sidorovskaia.

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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).

Sea Grant Publication Summarizes Where Deepwater Horizon Oil Went

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is pleased to announce a new Sea Grant informational publication that discusses the locations where approximate amounts of oil went after the Deepwater Horizon spill.

The publication Deepwater Horizon: Where did the oil go? summarizes what researchers have discovered about where the spilled oil traveled and what processes carried it along its path. Included are response actions and natural biological processes that affected oil fate. Even though scientists have discovered much concerning the fate of the oil, 11 to 25 percent of it remains as unaccounted.

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.

Contact a Sea Grant oil spill specialist to receive email updates about seminars and publications.

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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).

Study Develops Biogeographic Classification of the World’s Deep Oceans

Study author Tracey Sutton, Principal Investigator of the DEEPEND consortium and professor of marine and environmental sciences at NOVA Southeastern University, prepares nets on a recent DEEPEND research cruise, exploring the exceptional diversity of the deep northern Gulf of Mexico. Picture provided by DEEPEND.

Study author Tracey Sutton, Principal Investigator of the DEEPEND consortium and professor of marine and environmental sciences at NOVA Southeastern University, prepares nets on a recent DEEPEND research cruise, exploring the exceptional diversity of the deep northern Gulf of Mexico. Picture provided by DEEPEND.

An interdisciplinary panel of 23 experts in oceanography, ecology, physics, and geospatial-mapping combined their knowledge of pelagic faunal distribution patterns to create a biogeographic map of the world’s deep oceans. The panel identified 33 distinct mesopelagic (200-1000 meters depth) ecoregions that reflect regional variation of biodiversity and function. The Gulf of Mexico is one of four “super-diverse” offshore ecoregions in the world (the others are the Guinean upwelling zone off Africa, the South China Sea, and the Tasman Sea) due to its separation from the Atlantic, the influences of tropical southern waters and winter cooling in the north, a large river, and ample oxygen at depth. This classification system will be useful for policy planning and conservation management of deep ocean marine resources. The researchers published their findings in Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research PapersA global biogeographic classification of the mesopelagic zone.

Mesopelagic organisms provide important ecosystem services such as carbon cycling but are also vulnerable to issues such as climate change and deoxygenation. Our limited knowledge of these ecosystems is increasingly problematic as acidification, commercial fishing, seabed mining, and other environmental threats increase. The spatially patchy and inconsistent manner of pelagic data collection (less than 1% of this habitat has been sampled) have hampered researchers’ ability to conduct quantitative analyses of pelagic taxonomy and environment. This study’s team begins to address this data void by using an integrated approach since global information gaps and sampling methods preclude strictly statistical approaches.

Employing a modified Delphi Method during a July 2013 workshop, the team defined water mass boundaries according to temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, which are some of the strongest factors driving biogeographical ecoregions. The experts organized 33 ecoregions across four oceanic biomes into 3 polar ecoregions, 10 westerly winds ecoregions, 7 trade wind ecoregions (which includes the Gulf of Mexico), and 13 distant neritic ecoregions (where sunlight reaches the ocean floor) based on large-scale commonalities. Those commonalities included known species, physical oceanography (major currents and water masses), dissolved oxygen concentrations, temperature extremes, and the amount of life in overlying waters (surface to 200 meters depth).

“The Gulf’s mesopelagic zone was the largest ecosystem affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” explained author Tracey Sutton. “What most do not realize is that its deep waters are also highly diverse. The animals that live at these depths differ radically from those in coastal waters and most undertake extensive daily migrations from great depths (daytime) to surface waters (nighttime).” Sutton said that scientists from the DEEPEND research consortium have identified nearly 800 offshore fish species, of which 180 were previously unknown to live there. “These data were used in a recently published international effort to “map” the mesopelagic zone of the global ocean. Such maps are critical for global conservation and management efforts, especially as human resource extraction and its associated impact go deeper and deeper.”

Sutton said that studies such as these provide increasing evidence that the deep sea is far from a ‘biological desert,’ as previously thought, and that new discoveries are likely with continued research.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at 10.7266/N7VX0DK2.

The study’s authors are Tracey T. Sutton, Malcolm R. Clark, Daniel C. Dunn, Patrick N. Halpin, Alex D. Rogers, John Guinotte, Steven J. Bograd, Martin V. Angel, Jose Angel A. Perez, Karen Wishner, Richard L. Haedrich, Dhugal J. Lindsay, Jeffrey C. Drazen, Alexander Vereshchaka, Uwe Piatkowski, Telmo Morato, Katarzyna Blachowiak-Samolyk, Bruce H. Robison, Kristina M. Gjerde, Annelies Pierrot-Bults, Patricio Bernal, Gabriel Reygondeau, and Mikko Heino.

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This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Deep-Pelagic Nekton Dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico (DEEPEND) consortium. Other funding sources included The Lenfest Ocean Program, the NF-UBC Nereus Programme, and the NIWA Vulnerable Deep-Sea Communities Project (Contract CO1X0906).

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).

RFP-V Researcher Dr. Sunshine Van Bael Hosts Workshops for Elementary and Middle School Aged Kids

Dr. Van Bael talks with students during one of her summer workshops. Photo Credit: Sunshine Van Bael

Dr. Van Bael talks with students during one of her summer workshops. Photo Credit: Sunshine Van Bael

Dr. Sunshine Van Bael, principal investigator of the RFP-V project Chemical Evolution and Plant-Microbe Degradation of Petroleum in Saline Marsh Plants and Soil, and her colleagues recently hosted a series of workshops in Louisiana for nearly 140 elementary and middle school-aged kids. The workshops were part of Dr. Van Bael’s outreach efforts to teach students about the coasts and the challenges facing them due to global changes and oil spills.

Dr. Van Bael’s RFP-V project focuses on bacteria and fungi that live in salt marsh grasses called endophytes (specifically Spartina alterniflora). She is working to understand what happens to these endophytes when they are exposed to oil, including if they play a role in helping degrade it. The project has two components: a field effort to collect samples and analyze them in the lab to improve understanding of the bacteria and fungi and a modeling effort to better predict how endophytes move in water.

The first workshop, called “My Pet Endophyte,” relates to Dr. Van Bael’s RFP-V research. The kids participated in a nature walk where they learned about fungi, bacteria, Spartina, and endophytes. They each collected a leaf or a flower during their walk, which they took back to the lab where they learned to isolate the endophytes and plate them, just like scientists do. They then got to take their “pet” endophyte plate home and watch what happened over the course of a week or two. Check out Dr. Van Bael’s blog post and pictures to find out more.

The second workshop focused on coastal ecology and decision making. The activity is modeled after the state of Louisiana’s Master Plan for Coastal Protection and challenged the students to make their own “Kid Master Plan for Coastal Management.” They were split into groups of three, each acting as either a city planner, an engineer, or a marsh ecologist. The teams had to build their own Mississippi River Delta, including levees, out of Play-Doh, sand, sponges, rocks, and sticks they collected. They also had to decide where to place the city of New Orleans and Grand Isle to protect it in the event of sea level rise, river flooding, and a hurricane. Throughout each of the three challenges, the kids, acting in their roles as city planner, engineer, or marsh ecologist, discussed what they saw happening to their cities and how they might adjust their designs to protect them. In the end, the winning team was selected by one of the students acting as the governor. The curriculum for this workshop was developed by Dr. Van Bael, Dr. Emily Farrer, Dr. Kim Mighell, and Emma Tower. Contact Dr. Van Bael if you would like a copy of the activity.

Dr. Van Bael and her colleagues host similar workshops for elementary and middle school-aged kids each fall and spring. Her goal is to teach kids about the challenges facing the coasts and show them that all kinds of people are needed to help solve them. For more information about Dr. Van Bael’s research, and to follow along with her outreach activities, please visit her Lab Website here.

A Brittle Sea Star May be a Coral’s Best Friend

Brittle sea stars cling to deep sea coral. Photo Credit: ECOGIG

Brittle sea stars cling to deep sea
coral.  Photo Credit: ECOGIG

Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal recently released a new article in partnership with the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) consortium called A Brittle Sea Star May be a Coral’s Best Friend. Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, ECOGIG researchers began studying the impacts of oil on deep sea corals. They noticed a particular type of brittle sea star, Asteroschema clavigerum, gathering on healthy portions of the octocoral Paramuricea biscaya. Scientists wondered if the brittle sea stars were avoiding damaged portions of the coral or if they were protecting them from contamination. Further investigation into this interesting discovery is indicating to ECOGIG researchers that, in fact, the brittle sea stars are helping to protect corals from the impacts of oil by eating descending materials, including oil contaminants, so that they don’t accumulate on the corals’ branches. Find out more here.

Smithsomian's Ocean Portal

Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal.
Click image for Educators’ Corner…

Please visit the Educator’s Corner at Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal.  This site provides educators with activities, lessons and educational resources to bring the ocean to life for your students. We have collected top resources from our collaborators to provide you with teacher-tested, ocean science materials for your classroom. We hope these resources, along with the rich experience of the Ocean Portal, will help you inspire the next generation of ocean stewards.

Influence of River Fronts on Oil Spill Transport (GOMRI) -Satellite-drifters study

4738In April 2017, GoMRI researchers collaborated on a field experiment focused on better understanding how oil movement and transport is impacted by river fronts. Led by RFP-V investigator Dr. Villy Kourafalou (University of Miami (UM)) and Dr. Tamay Özgökmen (UM and principal investigator of the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE)), the experiment featured satellites, drones, research vessels, and drifters working together to track how leaking oil from the former Taylor Energy Site interacts with the open ocean and the Mississippi River Delta, called the Mississippi-TaylorOcean Convergence Zone. Findings from the experiment are improving scientists’ ability to more accurately track transport and oil thickness near river fronts. The field study was led by WaterMapping LLC, who, with contributions from the University of South Florida and the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, produced a video describing the experiment. Check it out below.

Modelling Study Demonstrates Dispersants Lowered Health Risks during Oil Spill

Scientific responders from the University of California Santa Barbara and the Texas A&M University collect samples near the Deepwater Horizon site. Photo by David L. Valentine, UC Santa Barbara.

Scientific responders from the University of California Santa Barbara and the Texas A&M University collect samples near the Deepwater Horizon site. Photo by David L. Valentine, UC Santa Barbara.

Scientists used data collected during the Deepwater Horizon spill to validate a model simulation of the physical and chemical behavior of oil and gas rising from the wellhead to the ocean surface. Using scenarios of dispersant and no-dispersant use, the model indicated that dispersant injection reduced the emission of several toxic compounds by 28% in the atmosphere, including a 2,000-fold decrease in the predicted mass flow rate of benzene emissions. The simulation results rationalize the effectiveness of subsea dispersant injection as a response strategy for reduced volatile organic compounds exposure by response personnel. The researchers published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal: Petroleum dynamics in the sea and influence of subsea dispersant injection during Deepwater Horizon.

The unprecedented use of chemical dispersants at the spill source, intended to decrease shoreline oiling, elicited public concern about potential adverse effects such as toxicity from the chemicals in the dispersants. The modeling work done by this study’s team provides an expanded understanding of a potential positive effect of subsea dispersant injection during the spill.

The team developed a comprehensive fluid dynamics and chemistry model of petroleum fluid in the oceans called the Texas A&M Oil spill Calculator or TAMOC, which NOAA has included as a module in the oil forecasting tool GNOME.  Using 279 simulated chemical components for a representative day (June 8, 2010) after the riser pipe was pared at the wellhead, the researchers modeled the buoyant jet of petroleum liquid droplets, gas bubbles, and entrained seawater.

Combined results from the model simulation and water column measurements showed 24% of the released petroleum went into a stable deep-water intrusion (900-1300 meters depth).  With subsea dispersant injection, the median initial diameters decreased 3.2 fold for oil droplets and 3.4 fold for gas bubbles, which increased dissolution of ascending petroleum fluids by 25% compared to the no-dispersant case. The faster dissolution increased the simulated flows of water-soluble compounds into biologically sparse deep water by 55% while decreasing the flows of several harmful compounds into biologically rich surface water.

“Several toxic and volatile compounds, including benzene and toluene, are in the sweet spot of compounds affected by the dispersant,” explained study author Scott Socolofsky. “More soluble compounds remain dissolved in the ocean and heavier substances rise to the sea surface whether dispersants are used or not. It is these carcinogenic BTEX compounds that were the most affected by dispersant usage during the Deepwater Horizon response.”

Study author J. Samuel Arey said that the effect of subsea dispersant injection is complicated and requires a careful analysis of all effects. “This is one reason that the National Academies of Science has commissioned a committee to conduct a holistic review of present knowledge.  Whether or not dispersants were effective depends on what you expect them to do.”

The authors noted that the study does not predict the exact effect of dispersant use for future spills and that whether and how dispersants are used in the future depends on the outcomes of this and many other studies.  However, they expect that this and other ongoing science and engineering studies will improve how dispersants can be used subsea to optimize their dosage and to achieve other important outcomes, such as reducing the amount of oil reaching the ocean surface layer.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at R1.x138.077:0028.

The study’s authors are Jonas GrosScott A. SocolofskyAnusha L. DissanayakeInok JunLin ZhaoMichel C. BoufadelChristopher M. Reddy, and J. Samuel Arey.

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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), the Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies II (DROPPS II) consortium, the Deepsea to Coast Connectivity in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (DEEP-C) consortium, and to the project The State-of-the-Art Unraveling of the Biotic and Abiotic Chemical Evolution of Macondo Oil: 2010-2018. Other funding sources include the National Science Foundation (Grants OCE-0960841, RAPID OCE-1043976, CBET-1034112, and EAR-0950600).

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 Wang Quantifies Ocean Model Uncertainty to Improve Prediction Accuracy

Shitao generates a visualization comparing satellite observational data to model simulations. (Photo by Suzhe Guan)

Shitao generates a visualization comparing satellite observational data to model simulations. (Photo by Suzhe Guan)

Researchers use numerical models to simulate oil spill scenarios and predict where oil will go, but the many factors that affect the oil’s path create uncertainty in the predictions. Shitao Wang quantifies the uncertainty of ocean models to gauge the reliability of oil fate predictions. “It’s like a weather prediction. Instead of saying whether or not it will rain tomorrow, forecasters give you an estimation of how likely it is that it will rain tomorrow,” he explained. “While we can’t say for sure that the oil will transport to a certain place, we can say if there is a 10% or even 80% chance.”

Shitao is a Ph.D. student with the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a GoMRI Scholar with the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment II (CARTHE II).

His Path

Shitao would often watch the sea in his coastal hometown of Qingdao in northeast China. He developed an interest in studying the ocean and enrolled in the Ocean University of China as a marine technology undergraduate student. While completing his bachelor’s degree, he also pursued his interest in computers and incorporated as many computer science classes as possible into his studies. He also spent time in 2010 as an exchange student in Taiwan at I-Shou University’s electrical and information engineering program. “Studying oceanography, especially the modelling aspect of oceanography, is the natural progression of my personal interest and my academic background,” said Shitao.

He applied to the ocean modelling master’s program at the University of Miami in 2012 and joined Dr. Mohamed Iskandarani, who is conducting CARTHE research that improves material transport predictions. Shitao continues his CARTHE research as a Ph.D. student to reduce the margin of error in oil fate predictions.

His Work

Shitao (middle) helped develop a plan for an interactive citizen science website centered on Tampa Bay, including live Q&A sessions with experts during ongoing disasters like sewage runoff or oil spills. (Provided by C-IMAGE)

Shitao (middle) helped develop a plan for an interactive citizen science website centered on Tampa Bay, including live Q&A sessions with experts during ongoing disasters like sewage runoff or oil spills. (Provided by C-IMAGE)

Uncertainty in ocean models comes from two main sources: the initial conditions (the point at which the model simulation begins) and physical variables such as wind and waves. Shitao uses a technique called ensemble forecasting to quantify uncertainty. He runs the Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM) under different conditions and analyzes the results to determine the likelihood of certain outcomes, such as for hurricanes or oil spills.

Shitao uses data gathered during the simulation along with Archiving, Validating, and Interpolating Satellite Ocean (AVISO) data to verify and correct the model’s projections. He conducts sensitivity analyses to determine which factors are the principle contributors to the model’s uncertainty. Researchers can use this information to identify which parameters require more attention to improve model output. “This information can inform almost everything related to decision making and helps decision makers assess how they’re going to handle the situation,” he said.

His Learning

Shitao (center right) volunteered at the CARTHE booth during Rock the Ocean’s Tortuga Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale, FL. (Provided by CARTHE)

Shitao (center right) volunteered at the CARTHE booth during Rock the Ocean’s Tortuga Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale, FL. (Provided by CARTHE)

Shitao’s interactions with other researchers have helped connect him to the bigger picture of his research. Iskandarani’s guidance kept him focused on his work’s purpose when he became engrossed in the details of his research. Shitao felt even more deeply connected to his research as he improved his ability to communicate his work to others. CARTHE All-Hands Meetings and annual Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem conferences gave him opportunities to communicate with prominent researchers in his field. Student activities and outreach programs taught him the skills to communicate with the public. “These activities connect me to the purpose of my work, and my advisor and fellow researchers connect me to the ‘why’ when the ‘what’ and ‘how’ are insurmountable,” Shitao said.

 

 

 

His Future

Shitao plans to join Uber this fall as a data scientist developing algorithms for improved customer service, leveraging his quantitative background and problem solving abilities. He said, “I am excited to help people move conveniently through the city and improve our community and world by making transportation as reliable as running water – everywhere for everyone.”

Shitao advises students pursuing a scientific career to keep their minds focused on the big picture. He explained that he struggled through the beginning of his research because he focused too much on the details. “The purpose of the research is much more important than the minute details because this is the big driver of your career,” he said. “You have to be able to see the purpose before you dive into the details.”

The CARTHE team at the University of Miami taking a short pause from writing papers to celebrate their successful experiments and publications. (Provided by CARTHE)

The CARTHE team at the University of Miami taking a short pause from writing papers to celebrate their successful experiments and publications. (Provided by CARTHE)

Praise for Shitao

Iskandarani said that Shitao is a hard-working and responsible student whose thorough work helped the project make rapid progress quantifying uncertainty in oil plume and ocean model outputs. He noted Shitao’s positive response to criticism as one of his most valuable traits. “Shitao always displayed an open mind about criticism and suggestions, which made his work more rigorous and deepened his understanding of many technical issues,” he said. “In turn, he was very generous with his knowledge and shared with anyone who asked for his help.”

Iskandarani also highlighted Shitao’s friendly and adventurous personality, which over time transformed Shitao’s office into an unofficial meeting place for daily teatimes with his fellow graduate students. He noted that, in contrast to his quieter teatime activities, Shitao is also an avid adventurer and adrenaline seeker. “It worried me to no end when I learned, through a Facebook post, that he went parachuting,” reflected Iskandarani. “I was enormously relieved that he landed safely.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Shitao Wang 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 CARTHE 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).

RECOVER Enlists Professional Anglers for Mahi Tagging Experiment

RECOVERThis RECOVER Consortium experiment uses satellite tags attached to adult mahi to help determine if consortium experiments could be replicated in the wild. Experienced anglers can help increase the amount of fish researchers catch in a day and reduce stressful fight times on the line to ensure that the tagged fish are as healthy as possible.

Click for more details…

CARTHE Prepares for Year Two of Bay Drift Project

CARTHE Consortium spent the day celebrating one successful year of the citizen science project #baydrift at Vizcaya museum and Gardens in Miami.

CARTHE Consortium spent the day celebrating one successful year of the citizen science project #baydrift at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami. Photo credit CARTHE.

The Bay Drift Project is a citizen-science experiment that uses drift cards to help determine the origins of the trash that washes up on the Vizcaya Museum and Garden’s shoreline. CARTHE Consortium representatives and Vizcaya hosted an event to highlight results from the project’s first year and to prepare drift cards and identify goals for the project’s second year.

Click for more details….

Visit the #baydrift project

Study Finds Oil Exposure Reduces Cardiac Function and Survival in Red Drum Larvae

Images of embryonic red drum phenotypes depict A) no oil exposure and B) 48-hours after exposure to high-energy water accommodated fractions from weathered oil collected from a Gulf of Mexico slick in June 2010. Note the increased pericardial area, spinal curvature and altered craniofacial shape between treatments. (Figure 2 in the publication, permission from Andrew Esbaugh).

Images of embryonic red drum phenotypes depict A) no oil exposure and B) 48-hours after exposure to high-energy water accommodated fractions from weathered oil collected from a Gulf of Mexico slick in June 2010. Note the increased pericardial area, spinal curvature and altered craniofacial shape between treatments. (Figure 2 in the publication, permission from Andrew Esbaugh).
Click to enlarge image…

Researchers conducted laboratory experiments to assess the lethal and sublethal impacts of weathered and non-weathered crude oil exposure on red drum larvae. The scientists observed a 70% reduction in cardiac output in oil-exposed larvae, even at low oil concentrations. The reduction in cardiac output was proportional to the occurrence of pericardial edema, suggesting a relationship between the two variables. Oil exposure increased craniofacial deformities, spinal curvature, and pericardial edema (indicators of cardiotoxicity) in larvae. Weathering did not influence larvae’s sensitivity to oil, but the presence of micro-droplets, like those found in dispersed oil, reduced larval survival. The researchers published their findings in Science of the Total EnvironmentCardiac function and survival are affected by crude oil in larval red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred when many Gulf of Mexico fish species were spawning. This study provides the first definitive assessment of overall cardiac function in larval fish following oil exposure in a marine fish species native to the Gulf of Mexico. Specifically, this is the first study to measure cardiac function in a marine larval fish directly through cardiac output, which is a more complete and physiologically relevant measure of routine cardiac performance compared to indicators such as heart rate or rhythm.

The team used weathered oil collected from a Gulf of Mexico slick (June 2010) and non-weathered source oil from an approved surrogate source for Deepwater Horizon oil for high-energy water accommodated fractions (HEWAFs) exposure trials. The LC50 (concentration that kills half of the samples) and EC50 (induces a response halfway between the baseline and maximum) for all endpoints ranged from 2.2 to 21.3 ug/L. Total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations observed in select coastal regions during the September 2010 spawning season ranged from 15 to 25 ng l− 1 (Allan et al., 2012). Other coastal areas maintained dissolved PAH44 concentrations of approximately 80 ng l− 1 a year after the spill (Hong et al., 2015), and concentrations in pelagic zones were as high as 85 ug/l (Bejarano et al, 2013Diercks et al., 2010). The researchers also exposed larvae to weathered HEWAFs with micro-droplets (that contain oil components not completely dissolved) present and filtered out to assess how micro-droplets influence toxicity.

Using high-resolution imagery, researchers calculated cardiac output and documented changes in larval spinal curvature and the shape of head, jaw, and eyes. Craniofacial deformity, which may affect jaw function and feeding later in life, was as sensitive as pericardial edema to HEWAF exposure. Cardiotoxicity affected craniofacial deformities and pericardial edema more than spinal curvature. Impaired stroke volume was largely responsible for observed reductions in cardiac output.

Since the study found a relationship between cardiac output and pericardial edema (either may lead to reduced performance and mortality), the researchers recommend further research to determine if edema constrains stroke volume or if poor cardiac function triggers edema. Data from this study also have implications for land-based runoff and its effect on red drum larvae in coastal estuaries.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N7H41PGC.

The study’s authors are Alexis J. KhursigaraPrescilla PerrichonNaim Martinez BautistaWarren W. Burggren, and Andrew J. Esbaugh.

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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 Malone Uses Engineering Skills to Put Pressure on Oil

Karen operates a high-pressure test center. (Provided by Hamburg University of Technology)

Karen operates a high-pressure test center. (Provided by Hamburg University of Technology)

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident highlighted new challenges and science gaps in our understanding of and ability to respond to deep-water oil releases.  Of particular importance is how highly pressurized oil and gas behaves in a deep-sea environment.  Karen Malone uses her engineering background to build high-pressure tanks that replicate deep-sea conditions in a laboratory so she can observe how pressure and temperature influence the behavior of oil droplets. Her findings will help responders and researchers predict the fate of oil and gas in the event of another deep-sea spill.

Karen is a Ph.D. student in the Hamburg University of Technology’s (TUHH) mechanical engineering program and a GoMRI Scholar with the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems II (C-IMAGE II).

Her Path

Karen grew up in Germany near the Wadden Sea, a North Sea intertidal zone where Wattwandern (walking several miles offshore or to islands at low tide) was a popular activity. However, after the 1998 Pallas cargo shipwreck caused one of Germany’s largest oil spills, she remembers being warned against the toxic oil slicks and finding dead birds along the shoreline. Twenty years later, Karen says it is still possible to find tar balls in the area’s beaches and tidelands. “When I heard about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, those childhood memories sprang to my mind along with the perception that it would cause damage far beyond what I witnessed in the North Sea,” she said.

Karen completed a bachelor’s degree in engineering at TUHH and then entered the university’s mechanical engineering masters’ program, where she heard about their involvement with the C-IMAGE group. Although Karen’s mechanical engineering background did not include studies on ocean currents and oil-degrading bacteria, the consortium’s interdisciplinary aspects and exciting student research opportunities fascinated her. She completed her masters’ degree in 2013 and joined the C-IMAGE research team as a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student. “I was hooked by the relevancy of the research,” said Karen. “The project offered the unique possibility to utilize my engineering skills to contribute to society and nature conservation.”

Her Work

Karen mounts the experimental module for oil-and-gas jet investigations. (Provided by Hamburg University of Technology)

Karen mounts the experimental module for oil-and-gas jet investigations. (Provided by Hamburg University of Technology)

Karen designs and maintains the high-pressure tanks and experimental modules that her group uses for experiments, including a complete refit and reassembly of their lab. She investigates how temperature and water depth affect the behavior of oil and gas spilled from a sub-sea well. First, she releases a steady plume of oil into the water-filled high-pressure tanks to simulate conditions in the deep-sea environment during the spill. She then takes endoscopic measurements of the plume to assess the distribution of oil droplet size as droplets travel upward through the water column.

So far, Karen observed that oil stored without gaseous components (dead oil) behaved differently than the gas-saturated oil inside of a well (live oil), particularly in terms of droplet size distribution. Droplet size distribution depended strongly on the pressure drop near the wellhead and whether and how much oil was over-saturated with gas. Compared to larger droplets, smaller droplets rose to the sea surface more slowly, which increased the likelihood for microbial biodegradation as they travel up the water column. Slowly rising droplets are also easier for ocean currents to sweep up and transfer to other areas of the Gulf, increasing their area of impact. Furthermore, the gases that are present in live oil make droplets lighter, enhancing their buoyancy. Understanding these differences in behavior and droplet size distribution can help responders predict how oil will move and evolve through the water column.

A comparison of “dead” (left) and “live” (right) oil jets generated in the pressure lab. (Provided by Hamburg University of Technology)

A comparison of “dead” (left) and “live” (right) oil jets generated in the pressure lab. (Provided by Hamburg University of Technology)

Karen has also observed how pressure (water depth), temperature, and certain physicochemical oil properties may significantly influence the behavior of oil and droplet size distribution. While pressure changes barely affected dead oil, high-pressure conditions significantly affected the gases in live oil, causing oil droplets to rise more quickly. Conversely, Karen’s team also observed that methane gas often created a hydrate crust around gas bubbles that slowed their velocity. Colder temperatures at depth increased the viscosity of live oil, which produced slightly larger droplets that rise more slowly.

Though her research is ongoing, the data and knowledge that Karen’s team produce will contribute to the modeling efforts of the C-IMAGE near- and far-field groups to help predict the fate and behavior of spilled oil and gas. “The uncertainties in Deepwater Horizon response showed the large knowledge gap regarding the deep-sea nature of this spill,” said Karen. “[The behavioral differences between live oil and dead oil are] almost non-existent at sea-surface conditions. As previous experimental work in this area has only been done at surface conditions, these effects have not been observed before.”

Her Learning

Working with her advisor Dr. Dieter Krause, Karen learned how to manage a research project. She was responsible for the pressure labs and their maintenance, which taught her how to manage major test sites and organize experiments. She explained that their diverse research team introduced her to new and different methods of conducting research, “Working in an international and highly interdisciplinary collaboration has the great benefit of learning work habits from many different countries and cultures – and making good friends on the way.”

Her Future

Karen is focusing her energy on analyzing and processing her experimental data and plans to conduct additional experiments that could help answer some questions she has. She plans to graduate in early 2018 and pursue a research position where she can further develop her engineering and management skills and knowledge of multi-phase flow systems.

Praise for Karen

Karen’s poster received the James D. Watkins Award for Excellence in Research at the 2013 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference in Mobile, Alabama. (Provided by Hamburg University of Technology)

Karen’s poster received the James D. Watkins Award for Excellence in Research at the 2013 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference in Mobile, Alabama. (Provided by Hamburg University of Technology)

Krause first noticed Karen’s potential in 2011, when she developed a model for variety allocation in product development during a student project. Her model is still widely used at TUHH and is well-recognized by the group’s industry partners. He explained that, although Karen joined C-IMAGE with no experience with oil spills and hydrodynamics, she adapted quickly and became an expert in her field.

Krause also praised Karen’s knowledge and experience with administrative and financial project management. “She independently manages and operates our high-pressure lab facilities. Her design and supervision of the lab’s refit resulted in an excellent research facility that offers unequalled opportunities for future research – and stayed well within budget.”

“Karen is a very dedicated and talented researcher,” he said. “I am certain her dissertation will reflect her excellent work within C-IMAGE, and I’m looking forward to her graduation next year.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Karen Malone 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 C-IMAGE 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).

Grad Student Johnson Uses Amino Acids to Demystify Salt Marsh Food Webs

Jessica presents her research at the 2016 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science conference in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Michael Polito)

Jessica presents her research at the 2016 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science conference in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Michael Polito)

Salt marshes support commercially and culturally important species and are often subject to natural and human-caused stressors. Gaps in our knowledge of salt marsh food webs made management and restoration decisions difficult after the Deepwater Horizon spill. Jessica Johnson helps fill this gap using novel chemical analysis techniques to describe the diets of salt marsh organisms and trace how energy flows through the marsh ecosystem food web. Her work may help inform decision making if a future spill occurs.

Jessica is a masters’ student with the Louisiana State University (LSU) Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences and a GoMRI Scholar with the Coastal Waters Consortium II (CWC II).

Her Path

Jessica participated in the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies program in 2010 while completing a biology undergraduate degree at Tufts University. One of the program’s activities placed her at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium to gain experience working with salt marshes and the coastal environment. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred one month after she returned to Connecticut. “The spill had a very strong impact on me because I had just studied coastal issues in the spill area and knew how much it would affect the coastal environment,” said Jessica.

Jessica graduated from Tufts and worked in a Massachusetts genomics laboratory to gain practical research experience before pursuing graduate school. Although her position did not involve marine ecology, she kept herself close to the water through volunteer work for the Charles River Watershed Association and an internship with the New England Aquarium. While she worked, the oil spill was constantly at the back of her mind, and she wondered how that event had changed the coastal community in Louisiana.

Jessica saw an advertisement in 2015 for a graduate research position investigating Deepwater Horizon impacts on coastal salt marsh ecology and knew she had to pursue it. She contacted Dr. Michael Polito at LSU to learn more about the position. He encouraged her to apply for the Oceanography and Coastal Sciences graduate program, and Jessica moved to Louisiana in August 2015 to begin her CWC research.

Her Work

Jessica characterizes flow of energy between producers (such as plants, bacteria, and algae) and consumers (such as crabs and birds) from oiled and unoiled marshes using trophic biomarkers called stable isotopes. Basic analyses can determine stable isotope ratios in an organism’s tissues, which becomes a bulk geochemical signature deriving from all the fats, sugars, and proteins that the organism consumed. However, Jessica uses a compound-specific stable isotope analysis technique, which ecologists have just begun exploring for salt marsh research application, to identify the signatures of individual essential amino acids within an organism’s tissue proteins. She then identifies signatures from the food web base that show up in consumers farther up the food chain and maps how energy flows through the food web.

Jessica explains that the concept behind using stable isotopes for dietary research is “you are what you eat.” Producers can make essential amino acids themselves, but consumers cannot and must ingest them through their diets. This means that the essential amino acids found in consumer tissues ultimately come from the plant or algae source that made them. Because the geochemical signatures of amino acids do not change as they move up the food web, scientists can use this technique to observe how energy flows through a food web and whether a disturbance has altered that food web.

While Jessica can compare the energy flow of food webs in oiled and unoiled salt marshes, the lack of data pre-Deepwater Horizon makes it difficult to describe spill impacts confidently. Instead, her research helps establish a picture of what the marshes currently look like and provides responders with a clearer understanding of the way future spills may spread through and impact marsh ecosystems. “Our finished research will describe the ecology and food web of this system far better than anyone understood prior to the oil spill,” said Jessica. “I think that’s a common theme for GoMRI overall – people filling the knowledge gap they didn’t know existed until the oil spill happened.”

Her Learning

Jessica traces the flow of energy through the marsh ecosystem food web. (Provided by CWC)

Jessica traces the flow of energy through the marsh ecosystem food web. (Provided by CWC)

Jessica’s research experiences taught her that analyzing fieldwork is sometimes more difficult than conducting laboratory experiments. Although the method behind her stable isotope analyses was straightforward, interpreting her results properly and responsibly was more complicated than she anticipated. “You have to be very careful with how you interpret what you measure in the field and make sure you understand what factors are driving the patterns that you see,” explained Jessica. “You have to be very rigorous in your experimental design and the conclusions you make from your research.”

Jessica’s first semester was with CWC, and it included her first experience conducting fieldwork and participating in a group workshop to build a marsh food web model using only existing literature. She initially expected to work only with her advisor on the project, but these early experiences show her how important collaboration is to scientific research. “This is a very unique organization in that we’re all here for the same basic purpose, but we’re also all coming from different places and going different places,” she said. “I was lucky that, in my very first semester, I got to be part of a team and not just work alone.”

Her Future

Jessica will begin a Ph.D. program studying stable isotope ratios in human diets at the University of Alaska Fairbanks next spring. Her research will investigate how the techniques used in her salt marsh research can apply to more clearly and objectively describe the human diet.

She believes that a willingness to take risks is the most important trait for students considering a scientific career. “Approaching a potential advisor can be very scary, especially when you’re young, but scientists want to train people who are enthusiastic and dedicated to the science,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to show your interest, that’s how you get your foot in the door.” She also emphasized that students shouldn’t be discouraged if their risks result in failure. “If you contact someone and they’re not interested, contact ten people – it will happen. Not everyone ends up there the same way, as there are many paths to science.”

Praise for Jessica

Polito was impressed initially with Jessica’s drive, maturity, and level of interest in the project. He was a new professor looking for a student who could take charge and hit the ground running. Jessica exceeded his expectations and took on an ambitious thesis project despite having little experience with isotopes. Two years later, Polito describes her as an expert in stable isotope analysis and says that she often teaches him new things about the technique.

“She really dug into the literature, learned the nitty-gritty details of the methodology, and came out the other end with a strong and exciting thesis that pushes the techniques to their limits,” he said. “This is a really powerful and novel technique, and she’s using it in the salt marsh where it’s really never been done at this level before.” Polito credited the project’s advancement on Jessica and her hard work and talent, “She’s going to have a bright future in sciences, and I’ll be sad to see her go when she graduates.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Jessica Johnson 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/.

© 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).

Education Spotlight – Summer 2017 GoMRI Newsletter

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CARTHE Outreach Coordinator Laura Bracken dressed up as a fiddler crab at the 2017 NMEA Annual Conference.
Photo Credit: CONCORDE

GoMRI Outreach Coordinators Lauren Bracken, from the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE), and Jessie Kastler, from the Consortium for Oil Exposure Pathways in Coastal River-Dominated Ecosystems (CONCORDE), attended the 2017 National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) Annual Conference from June 25-29 in Charleston, South Carolina. This year’s theme was Seas of Change: Lowcountry Lessons in Resiliency. More information about the conference, including the program, can be found here and here.

 

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Students release their samples
back into the water during the UT Summer Science Program.
Photo Credit: DROPPS

The Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies Consortium (DROPPS) recently participated in a summer camp in partnership with the UT Summer Science Program at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, Texas. The camp is geared toward elementary and middle school-aged kids. In June, students participated in an all-day activity called Floating Habitats: A Balancing Act. The kids viewed sargassum and the animals that live in it under the microscope, played Jenga as a way to understand the delicate balance of ecosystems and their response to perturbations such as oil spills, and finished the day by releasing the animals they viewed in the microscopes back into the water. View pictures here.

Image Credit: Environmental Science Journal for Kids.  Click image to download the article…

The Environmental Science Journal for Kids recently adapted a publication, funded in part by GoMRI, on how oil spills impact fiddler crabs. The goal of Environmental Science Journal for Kids is to share peer-reviewed journal articles with children and educators. Each paper featured in the journal highlights information from the original article, including the abstract, methods, discussion, and conclusions but modifies it using age-appropriate language.

 

The papers also include an accompanying lesson plan, videos, vocabulary words, and questions for discussion in the classroom. The article, co-authored by Scott Zengel, Steven Pennings, Brian Silliman, Clay Montague, Jennifer Weaver, Donald Deis, Michelle Krasnec, Nicolle Rutherford, and Zachary Nixon, was funded in part through the RFP-II project Accelerating Recovery after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Response of the Plant-Microbial-Benthic Ecosystem to Mitigation StrategiesPromoting Wetland Remediation and Resilience and the RFP-V project Long-Term Impact, Recovery, and Resilience: Wetland Plant-Microbial-Benthic Ecosystem Responses to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Mitigation Strategies Promoting Sustainability. This research was also highlighted on the GoMRI website, which can be found here.

Study Assesses How Chemical Dispersant Affects Oil Plume Behavior

 

A comparison of an oil plume without dispersant (left or a) and one with dispersant at a 1:100 dispersant to oil ratio (right or b). The insets show typical droplet sizes in magnified sections corresponding to the white squares. Image credit David Murphy.

A comparison of an oil plume without dispersant (left or a) and one with dispersant at a 1:100 dispersant to oil ratio (right or b). The insets show typical droplet sizes in magnified sections corresponding to the white squares. Image credit David Murphy.
[Click to enlarge…. ]

A comparison of an oil plume without dispersant (left or a) and one with dispersant at a 1:100 dispersant to oil ratio (right or b). The insets show typical droplet sizes in magnified sections corresponding to the white squares. Image credit David Murphy.

 

Scientists conducted laboratory experiments with a simulated oil plume to assess how chemical dispersants affect a crude oil jet as it transitions into a plume under crossflow conditions. The researchers found that counter-rotating vortices within the plume strongly interacted with oil droplets. Millimeter-scale droplets that escaped these vortices either defined or broke through the upper boundary of the plume. As dispersant concentration increased, the number of smaller droplets (micrometer) also increased. Compared to the larger droplets, these smaller droplets rose more slowly, and this slower rise rate inhibited the droplets or stopped them completely from breaking through the upper boundary of the plume. Vertical vortices within and beneath the plume entrained small droplets, and since higher dispersant concentrations increased the number of smaller droplets, the amount of oil trapped beneath the plume increased. The researchers published their findings in Journal of Geophysical ResearchCrude oil jets in crossflow: Effects of dispersant concentration on plume behavior.

Subsea oil well blowouts, such as the Ixtoc I and Deepwater Horizon, can discharge large amounts of oil droplets that rise to the sea surface, form slicks, and harm environmentally or economically important coastlines and impact public health. Because the magnitude and type of damage largely depends on oil fate, understanding how chemical dispersants affect oil fate is important to inform decisions about dispersant use. The authors in this study addressed this need by simulating an underwater oil plume in a towing tank, injecting oil and dispersant-oil mixtures (1:100 and 1:25 dispersant-to-oil ratios, DOR), and examining oil droplet dynamics and transport. Ratios reflect varying subsea dispersant injection levels that might be present in an oil jet/plume blowout (Brandvik et al., 2013 and Johansen et al., 2013).

Using high-speed imaging, the team documented the plume structure. Using particle image velocimetry, they then observed the dominant flow patterns and quantified velocity distributions of the plumes. Finally, the team measured droplet size distributions in the evolving plume using holography.

The turbulent jet broke the crude oil jet into droplets, and the droplet size decreased as dispersant concentrations increased. The bottom boundaries of the crude oil and 1:100 DOR plumes did not significantly differ, but both formed at a higher elevation than the 1:25 DOR plume. The upper boundaries of the plumes differed substantially, with plume height increasing as less or no dispersant was present and droplet size was larger.

Plume turbulence did not affect the vertical trajectory of droplets in the crude oil plume, and its upper boundary diffused as large droplets (3-5 millimeter) escaped. Plume turbulence had a small effect on the vertical trajectory of droplets in the 1:100 DOR plume, and only a few droplets (~2 millimeter) escaped its upper boundary. Plume turbulence dominated the trajectories of droplets in the 1:25 DOR plume, and no droplets (micrometer) escaped its upper boundary.

The evolving strength of the counter-rotating vortices and size distribution of droplets generated when the oil jet breaks up help define the oil plume structure in a crossflow. However, the study did not account for how droplet interactions affect the structure and trajectory of the counter-rotating vortices nor did it explain flow phenomena during early jet to plume transition.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) website at https://data.gulfresearchinitiative.org (doi:10.7266/N7QC01FZ).

The study’s authors are David W. MurphyXinzhi XueKaushik Sampath, and Joseph Katz.

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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).

Science at Sea: SPLASH Experiment Improves Predictions for Oil Moving toward Shore

Response decisions during Deepwater Horizon relied on forecasts of where the oil was going and when it would get there.  Researchers with the CARTHE consortium have been working to improve the information that goes into making ocean transport forecasts. The group recently completed the last of four field experiments that link the dynamics of deep ocean, shelf, and coastal surface currents, where materials such as oil or debris naturally accumulate, in a way that has never been done before. The aerial observation team (see photo – left) from the University of Brest, France measure sea surface temperature and surface roughness and take visual images of fronts. Their observations assist the ground teams to select exact locations for drifter deployments. The aerial observation team from the University of Brest, France measure sea surface temperature and surface roughness and take visual images of fronts. Their observations assist the ground teams to select exact locations for drifter deployments. Photo provided by CARHTE.

Take a look at the technology that CARTHE researchers use to answer, Where is water going to go in the ocean? Video credit:  Waterlust.

Led by chief scientist Jeroen Molemaker, CARTHE conducted a month-long (mid-April to mid-May) experiment named SPLASH (the Submesoscale Processes and Lagrangian Analysis on the Shelf) that involved hundreds of pieces of equipment and nearly as many people. SPLASH took place south of Grand Isle, Louisiana, across the shelf and shelf break, and along bays and inlets west of the Mississippi River Delta. This area has freshwater influx and complex small-scale processes, which heavily influenced where oil did and did not go during the 2010 spill, that are not well understood or represented in forecast models.  This is about to change for the better.

Click for full details about this research…..

Study Characterizes Effects of Corexit Components on Oil Aerosolization

(Top) The bubble column reactor after injection of oil premixed with Span 80 (left) or DOSS (right). (Bottom) Molecular simulations of alkane n-triacontane with Span 80 (left) or DOSS (right) at the air/seawater interface; black = oil compound C30, red = seawater; cyan/yellow = surfactants. (Image provided by Francisco Hung, from Figures 3 and 7 in the publication)

(Top) The bubble column reactor after injection of oil premixed with Span 80 (left) or DOSS (right). (Bottom) Molecular simulations of alkane n-triacontane with Span 80 (left) or DOSS (right) at the air/seawater interface; black = oil compound C30, red = seawater; cyan/yellow = surfactants. (Image provided by Francisco Hung, from Figures 3 and 7 in the publication)
Click image to enlarge…

Researchers combined laboratory experiments and molecular simulations to examine how two Corexit surfactants – DOSS (dioctyl sulfosuccinate) and Span 80 – individually affect oil aerosolization. Using a bubble column reactor, the scientists found that more oil hydrocarbons (alkanes) were ejected when Span 80 was present (by more than an order of magnitude for heavy hydrocarbons) than when DOSS was present. Molecular simulations show that Span 80 increased the likelihood that alkanes would adsorb at the surface of seawater droplets, compared to DOSS or no surfactant, and eject into the atmosphere through bursting bubbles and breaking waves. The team published their findings in The Journal of Physical Chemistry ACombined experimental and molecular simulation investigation of the individual effects of Corexit surfactants on the aerosolization of oil spill matter.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill prompted studies that examined the toxicity and environmental fate of oil in water and sediments, but few addressed oil transport into the atmosphere. “During an oil spill in the sea, volatile oil components can quickly reach the sea surface and evaporate into the atmosphere, but our studies suggest than non-volatile oil compounds can be aerosolized into air through whitecaps and bursting bubbles at the sea surface,” explained study author Francisco Hung. This study builds on previous research by the authors (Ehrenhauser et al, 2014) and addresses the fundamental properties of oil alkanes and surfactants at the air-seawater interface relevant to oil aerosolization.

Co-author Zenghui Zhang works with molecular simulations to visualize the interactions of oil compounds with two Corexit surfactants (DOSS, SPAN 80) and their effects on aerosolization. (Photo provided by Zenghui Zhang)

Co-author Zenghui Zhang works with molecular simulations to visualize the interactions of oil compounds with two Corexit surfactants (DOSS, SPAN 80) and their effects on aerosolization. (Photo provided by Zenghui Zhang)

The researchers prepared mixtures of DOSS, Span 80, and Louisiana sweet crude oil at a dispersant-to-oil ratio of 1:20 (the standard application ratio to achieve effective dispersion, which response operations used during Deepwater Horizon, according to e.g., Coolbaugh, T., McElroy, A., & Guard, L. U. C. 2012 Dispersant Efficacy and Effectiveness.) Hung explained further, “The laboratory experiments involved a bubble column reactor that mimics the generation of aerosols at the sea surface, as well as a number of analytical techniques (gas and liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry). The modeling component involved classical molecular dynamics simulations and provide molecular-level details of these systems.”

Alkanes exhibited a thermodynamic preference to remain at the air-seawater interface regardless of the absence or presence of surfactants. The presence of Span 80 made the air-water interface more stable for alkane adsorption relative to DOSS. Span 80 has a larger thermodynamic incentive to move from the seawater phase and into the air-seawater interface as compared to DOSS, which contributed to increased ejection quantities. The researchers emphasized that while both thermodynamics and transport processes play important roles in the aerosolization of oil spill matter, their molecular simulations only examined thermodynamics.

Co-author Paria Avij works with the bubble column reactor used in experiments to examine how two Corexit surfactants (DOSS, SPAN 80) each affect oil aerosolization. (Photo credit: The Daily Reveille)

Co-author Paria Avij works with the bubble column reactor used in experiments to examine how two Corexit surfactants
(DOSS, SPAN 80) each affects oil aerosolization. (Photo credit: The Daily Reveille)

Describing their findings, Hung said, “Non-volatile components from oil and Corexit dispersants can adsorb very strongly to the surface of water droplets. Because breaking waves generate a lot of sea sprays, this suggests that important quantities of oil spill matter can be transported into the air via this aerosolization mechanism.” Hung said that the aerosols generated are part of particulate matter, a common air pollutant monitored by the EPA because of its negative effects on human health and the environment.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N73R0QW8.

The study’s authors are Zenghui ZhangParia AvijMatt J. PerkinsThilanga P. Liyana-ArachchiJennifer A. FieldKalliat T. Valsaraj, and Francisco R. Hung.

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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 the Molecular Engineering of Dispersant Systems (C-MEDS) and Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf-2 (ECOGIG-2) consortium. Other funding sources included the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (Award Number T32ES007060).

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 Metabolic Pathways of Oil-Degrading Bacteria

An epifluorescence microphotograph of a complex bacterial community feasting on or associated with an oil floc (pink). Gammaproteobacteria (green) are the majority of cultured, well-studied alkane- and aromatics-degrading bacteria. Other bacteria (blue) thrive in close association with the oil particle and their gammaproteobacterial neighbors. (Photo by Luke McKay, Montana State University).

An epifluorescence microphotograph of a complex bacterial community feasting on or associated with an oil floc (pink). Gammaproteobacteria (green) are the majority of cultured, well-studied alkane- and aromatics-degrading bacteria. Other bacteria (blue) thrive in close association with the oil particle and their gammaproteobacterial neighbors. (Photo by Luke McKay, Montana State University).

Researchers analyzed bacterial communities exposed to Deepwater Horizon oil and identified taxa and genes associated with oil degradation and assimilation. The scientists found that Marinobacter and Alcanivorax dominated alkane-degrading communities, while Alteromonadales, Oceanospirillales, and Rhodospirillales dominated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)-degrading communities. Oil-degrading bacteria exhibited genes associated with motility and nutrient uptake needed for nutrient-limiting conditions that are characteristic of oil-induced bacterial blooms. These results suggest that the degradation of oil associated with a spill requires the coordinated response of a complex bacterial community. The researchers published their findings in Nature Microbiology: Reconstructing metabolic pathways of hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Previous studies correlated observed shifts in microbial community structures with degradation and use of Deepwater Horizon hydrocarbons. However, the genetic potential and taxon-specific metabolisms of these hydrocarbon-degrading bacterial communities are still under investigation. This study’s researchers addressed this information gap by reconstructing draft genomes of enriched marine bacteria collected in oil-contaminated sea surface and deep plume waters in May 2010.

The researchers incubated bacteria from oil-contaminated water samples with 13C-labelled alkane (n-hexadecane) and PAHs (phenanthrene and naphthalene), and the bacteria incorporated these 13C-labelled hydrocarbons into their DNA. The team separated the resulting 13C-enriched DNA from the non-labelled DNA pool and used them to reconstruct the genomes of individual hydrocarbon-assimilating community members and to build metabolic models that traced the physiological pathways involved in oil degradation.  Comparisons of model output with published plume-derived metagenomics and metatranscriptomic data sets show that the reconstructed lineages resembled those of bacteria found in hydrocarbon-contaminated waters.

Researchers identified and reconstructed the versatile alkane-degrading bacterium Marinobacter and reconstructed its entire pathway for degrading alkanes from the metagenome. The alkane-oxidizing bacterium Alcanivorax occurred not only in hexadecane but also in naphthalene enrichments, suggesting they have the ability to degrade both components, potentially by participating in bacterial consortia that fully metabolize PAHs. All assembled genomes possessed pathways for degrading alkanes and PAHs, suggesting that several taxa degraded hydrocarbons during the spill. Bacteria not typically associated with PAH degradation persisted at sufficiently high levels for metagenomic reconstruction.

“What is unique about this approach is that [our methods] isolated the DNA of hydrocarbon-assimilating bacterial communities to reconstruct genomes for individual community members,” said study co-author Andreas Teske. He explained that bacterial taxa individually cultivated in a laboratory are distinct from those in nature and often cannot degrade specific hydrocarbons whereas the same species in a complex natural bacterial community of many taxa can. “Because our approach does not rely on growing the bacteria in a pure culture in the laboratory, it provides insights into the metabolism of these organisms in nature,” said co-author Brett Baker. “By doing this, we advanced our understanding of how natural marine microbial communities degrade oil.”

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N7GH9FZ8.

The study’s authors are Nina Dombrowski, John A. Donaho, Tony Gutierrez, Kiley W. Seitz, Andreas P. Teske, and Brett J. Baker.

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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 International Outgoing Fellowship (PIOF-GA-2008-220129) and the National Science Foundation (NSF-OCE 1045115).

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).

Beneath the Horizon: A Web Resource for the 1979 and 2010 Oil Spills

A map of the Gulf of Mexico that shows the Deepwater Horizon and Ixtoc spills. Image provided by C-IMAGE

A map of the Gulf of Mexico that shows the Deepwater Horizon and Ixtoc spills. Image provided by C-IMAGE
(Click to enlarge image…)

Scientists and outreach personnel created an on-line resource that examines two major oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico: The Deepwater Horizon in the northern Gulf and the Ixtoc in the southern Gulf. Beneath the Horizonwebsite, developed by the C-IMAGE research group and Jake Price Productions, explores these spills, the people who coped with and responded to these disasters, and expectations for recovery.

C-IMAGE researchers have studied the tale of these two spills since 2015 with the goal of anticipating the decadal impacts in the northern Gulf through evidence found in the southern Gulf. Beneath the Horizon’s resources take a personal look at the resilience of the people living off the Gulf’s resources.

Timelines

The Deepwater Horizon timeline shows 35 significant events from the 2010 blowout. It starts with the well explosion on April 20, 2010 then moves through events such as the unsuccessful attempts to cap the well and dispersant applications. The timeline ends with the White House Oil Commission’s determination of responsible parties on January 6, 2011.

The Ixtoc I timeline shows 10 significant events from the blowout on June 4, 1979, including unsuccessful attempts to cap the well and application of dispersant. The timeline ends with the capping of the well nine months later and the spill fate report produced on April 1, 1980 by the Mexican-owned oil company, PEMEX.

Maps

Using the interactive oil spill map, you can view and compare the extent of the spills, the areas where there was loss of recreational land use, and the locations of oiled beaches.

Historic spills from around the world are featured on the map depicting the sizes of spills, the types of oil spilled, and the ongoing impacts.

Audios/Videos
Five videos and six podcasts feature scientists who have devoted their lives to studying spills and residents who lived through them.  Their first-hand accounts of experiences add the all-important human element to the research about and recovery from the Deepwater Horizon event.

Director’s Reflections

Putting together a resource like Beneath the Horizon requires getting to know the scientists who are studying these spills and the people whose lives and livelihoods were affected by these disasters.  Read the director’s personal perspective of his journeys to Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana and Mexico’s Campeche, Tabasco, and Veracruz shorelines.

Learn More

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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).

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).

Science at Sea: U.S. and Cuban Scientists Collaborate in Historic OneGulf Expedition

Gulf-wide baseline for oil pollution monitoring complete!

Marine geologist David Hollander (USF, right) instructs Cuban students on sediment core sampling techniques off northwest Cuba. Dr. Greg Brooks (Eckerd College, orange shirt) assists. Photo courtesy of C-IMAGE

Marine geologist David Hollander (USF, right) instructs Cuban students on sediment core sampling techniques off northwest Cuba. Dr. Greg Brooks (Eckerd College, orange shirt) assists. Photo courtesy of C-IMAGE  (Click image for more info and details)

 

Marine scientists advanced academic relations between the U.S. and Cuba during an 18-day research expedition (May 8-25) off the northwest coast of the island nation. Twenty-four scientists representing four universities sailed on the R/V Weatherbird II and collected 450 fish, 50 plankton, 150 water, and 1,500 sediment samples. They also tagged and released sharks.

The team will add the suite of samples from Cuban waters to collections gathered over the past four years from across the Gulf of Mexico. Now, with a comprehensive catalogue of environmental baseline specimens complete, scientists will be able to determine the presence of petroleum chemical signatures and better understand ecological impacts of future oil spills.

The U.S. team includes members of the Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE) consortium led by Steven Murawski of the University of South Florida (USF) who served as the expedition’s co-chief scientist. Researchers represented USF, Eckerd College, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, and Florida State University.   The Cuban team was led by Maickel Armenteros, the expedition’s other co-chief scientist, with the University of Havana’s Centro de Investigaciones Marinas and included researchers from Centro de Estudios Ambientales de Cienfuegos.

Click here for more details and images regarding this historic One Gulf Expedition….

 

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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).

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 Identifies Key Species that Influence Marsh Ecosystem Responses to Oiling

The authors created a salt marsh food web with oil sensitivity ratings for each species or node. Clear circles indicate no data available. Blue, yellow, and red circles depict sensitivity scores of 0, 1, and 2, respectively. Nodes are arranged so that trophic level increases vertically. (Provided by Michael McCann)

The authors created a salt marsh food web with oil sensitivity ratings for each species or node. Clear circles indicate no data available. Blue, yellow, and red circles depict sensitivity scores of 0, 1, and 2, respectively. Nodes are arranged so that trophic level increases vertically. (Provided by Michael McCann)

Scientists constructed a food web model using data from published studies and their field experiences to understand how specific Louisiana salt marsh organisms influenced ecosystem response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The researchers found that carnivorous fishes were “critically resilient” and likely enhanced food web resilience. Gulls, terns, omnivorous snails, and wading birds were “critically sensitive” and potentially destabilized the food web. The framework for assessing how individual species influence food web responses to stressors is applicable to other marsh threats and to habitats beyond Louisiana marshes. The researchers published their findings in Frontiers in Ecology and the EnvironmentKey taxa in food web responses to stressors: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The impact of oil spills to individual species can indirectly affect other areas of the food web, yet little research has investigated the effects of Deepwater Horizon oil on coastal food web structure and dynamics. “Not all plants and animals in the marsh are equally sensitive to oil,” explained study author Michael McCann. “When oil hit the marsh, it was not just how sensitive to oil you are, but also how connected you are to the rest of the food web that mattered.”

McCann and his team conducted a literature review of 124 studies that documented feeding interactions between marsh consumers and resources. Species considered most important were both highly connected and occupied a unique position in the food web. The team synthesized this data and constructed an empirically derived food web model containing 376 links among 52 species. Using this information, the team determined the importance of individual taxa to the food web based on their connectivity and uniqueness. Then, the team used 37 studies to score the oil sensitivity of species, with scores representing no, weak, or strong responses to oiling.

“Some species such as red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) and Gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis) were very resistant to oil and important to the food web, thus making the marsh food web more resilient in the face of the oil spill,” explained McCann. “Other animals such as gulls and terns and the snail Littoraria irrorate likely made the marsh food web less stable during the oil spill because they are very important to the food web and highly sensitive to oil.”

Hermit crabs and large fish species feeding on marsh edge benthos, such as hardhead catfish and spot, also showed potential as critically resilient species. Grass shrimp and meiobenthos showed high oil sensitivity but low food web importance. Blue crabs were the most important food web node, but were only moderately sensitive to oil. It is currently unclear if moderate-sensitivity/high-importance species would be stabilizing or destabilizing after a spill. The researchers recommended that future studies focus on the indirect effects of oil mediated through blue crab life stages.

The findings suggest that organisms with high food web importance should be a conservation priority because of the potential for negative cascading effects. “There are still many species in the marsh that we don’t know how sensitive they are to oil,” said McCann. “These include jellyfish, marsh crabs (Armases cinereum), and reptiles such as snakes, alligators, and terrapins.” The authors suggested that future investigations prioritize these species and to consider non-trophic interactions when quantifying ecosystem importance and focus on the sublethal effects of oiling that might affect the food web.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N7RN35V6.

The study authors are Michael J. McCannKenneth W. Able, Robert R. Christian, F. Joel FodrieOlaf P. JensenJessica J. JohnsonPaola C. Lopez-DuarteCharles W. MartinJill A. OlinMichael J. PolitoBrian J. Roberts, and Shelby L. Ziegler.

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

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

© 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).

RFP IV Update: Alabama Center for Ecological Resilience (Valentine)

Researcher John Valentine

Researcher John Valentine

The ACER objectives are: To assess how coastal ecosystem structure, as measured by multiple estimates of biodiversity, and functioning (its provision of valuable processes and services) have been affected by differential exposure to Deepwater Horizon oiling. To determine how the biodiversity of coastal ecosystems can buffer resistance and recovery from oiling. To determine the conditions of disturbance that drive coastal ecosystems beyond their “tipping points,” and prevent them from returning to their pre-disturbed states.

Click for access to GoMRI’s YouTube videos of RFP-IV Project Updates…

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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/.

GoMRI RFP-V: Topography of Gulf of Mexico Influences Mixing and Distribution of Oil and Gas (Polzin)

The Understanding How the Complex Topography of the Deepwater Gulf of Mexico Influences Water-column Mixing Processes and the Vertical and Horizontal Distribution of Oil and Gas after a Blowout project is lead by Kurt Polzin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

An integrated, multi-platform, observational field effort is proposed that makes direct observations of turbulent mixing in the Gulf of Mexico outer continental slope region near the BP Deepwater Horizon well and across the northern Gulf of Mexico. This study’s main objective is to quantify turbulence-induced dispersion and as such, specifically targets GoMRI Theme 1 which addresses the impact of the physical environment on the distribution, dispersion, and dilution of contaminants. The innovative research plan will obtain ocean turbulence and larger-scale ocean velocity and stratification data from the surface to up to 1000 m water depth using a combination of two Slocum G2 deepwater gliders, a vertically-sampling turbulence Profiler (the High Resolution Profiler) and bottom-anchored moorings. The observations will be made during field campaigns in each of project years 1-3 to ensure a variety of oceanographic and dynamical conditions are sampled. The results of this project will help improve the representation of mixing processes in modern plume dispersal models. Specifically, it is expected that linkages between the vertical distribution of turbulent mixing, the characteristics of the regional bathymetry and the nature of physical forcing phenomena of the northern Gulf of Mexico will be established including the Loop Current, Loop Current Eddies, bottom intensified Topographic Rossby Waves, internal waves, internal tides and surface and near bottom trapped inertial oscillations. Quantification of the turbulent field will support vastly improved forecast capabilities of present and planned numerical models. It should be noted that the turbulence parameterizations used in current GOM models are based on generalizations developed in other oceanographic regimes using very limited data sets. The project will provide research opportunities and at-sea training for a graduate student at Texas A&M University. The research is stand alone, will provide unique observations of vertical turbulent dispersion, and complements currently-funded GoMRI consortia efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

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/.

GoMRI RFP-V: 3D Gulf Circulation and Biogeochemical Processes – Profiling Float & Ocean Model (Shay)

The Three-Dimensional Gulf Circulation and Biogeochemical Processes Unveiled by State-of-the-Art Profiling Float Technology and Data Assimilative Ocean Models project is lead by Lynn K. (Nick) Shay, University of Miami.

The overarching goal of this proposed research is to build a rapid response capability that can be deployed in the event of an oil spill. The capability will consist of an integrated observation-prediction system to map the distribution and extent of hydrocarbons in the water column in real time and to quantify hydrocarbon removal and fate including short-term predictions of dispersion induced by the current field and transport of oil to the sea floor through scavenging by marine particles. Specific research objectives are (1) Observe fundamental physical and biogeochemical properties and processes using advanced state of- the-art measurement sensors on new profiling floats; (2) Integrate physical and biogeochemical processes in a coupled model that assimilates real-time data streams in the presence of strong currents; (3) Develop a flexible and carefully evaluated “end-to-end” predictive capability that can be deployed rapidly in case of subsurface oil spills to improve mitigation approaches by emergency responders and policy makers; and, (4) Quantify data and model uncertainties via a robust suite of realistic scenario simulations so that the final forecasted probability has well-understood sources of uncertainty. The prediction system will be evaluated in retrospective assimilation experiments using data from the Deepwater Horizon spill and in forecast experiments that assimilate satellite and float data in real time. Both will demonstrate the system’s capability, and improve our understanding of physical mechanisms and their impacts on the biogeochemistry in the water column.

To address the overarching goal, this group brings together technological development in ocean sensing, and their strategic deployments, modeling and data assimilation techniques, and analyses of data and simulations. The research team members have strong track records in their respective fields as shown on the CVs. The research group includes Dalhousie University, North Carolina State University, Teledyne-Webb Research and the University of Miami. In addition, the team intends to collaborate with the University of Miami’s CARTHE Program, which focuses mainly on measurements of surface processes.

By addressing the complexities of interacting physical and biogeochemical processes through integrated observation and prediction, this research has high potential for scientific as well as societal impacts ranging from possible application of the rapid response capability in the event of a spill and advancement of autonomous observation technology to improved predictions and process understanding. We will combine our collective expertise to develop and implement a rapid response product that is grounded in physical and biogeochemical measurements and their utilization in a coupled modeling framework in the eastern GoM. As part of this effort, we will contribute to training the next generation of scientists and engineers in building and deploying new technology that addresses Research Theme 4. The team members will work closely together to ensure that goals and objectives are met in a timely fashion. Data sets generated by this research will be provided to the GRIIDC group where data will be available to the GoMRI community. This transformative science, made possible through recent advances in autonomous platform and sensor technology, is needed given the complexities that were observed during DwH with subsurface plumes at depth and the southeastern GoM is may be exposed to new risks with possible drilling sites off the Cuba coast in the Straits of Florida. From this broader perspective, our highly experienced team is poised and ready to transcend the boundaries of traditional disciplines in addressing and mitigating present and future risks to our sensitive ecosystems.

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/.

 

GoMRI RFP-V: Toxicological Properties of Aromatic Hydrocarbons from Deepwater Horizon Spill (Miller)

 

The Toxicological Properties of Specific Aromatic Hydrocarbons Isolated from Fresh and Aged Crude Oil from the Deepwater Horizon Spill project is lead by Charles Miller, Tulane University.

The scientific goal of this research is to elucidate the highly toxic compounds within fresh and weathered crude oil from the MC252 oil spill. The hypothesis of this research proposal is that a relatively small group of the chemicals in oil accounts for most of the toxicity. Learning the identity of these highly toxic compounds will lead to better predictions of the toxic

properties of fresh crude oil and will provide a way to follow these substances as oil weathers in the environment. Oil residues from various sites differ in their composition and toxic activity. Furthermore, oil constituents change dramatically with time and weathering. The ability to identify and quantitate the key toxic compounds in oil will permit predictions of adverse human health effects and ecotoxicity in the future.

In human and environmental risk assessment studies, the first steps are hazard identification and dose-response analysis. Oil spills are well recognized for causing toxic effects in people and environmental organisms. However, oil is chemically complex and the specific compounds that contribute to its toxicity are surprisingly poorly defined. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) represent a large family of toxic chemicals in oil. PAHs have received considerable attention from scientists. However, most of this previous research has focused on the PAHs produced by combustion (pyrogenic products), and these are not well represented in oil. The petrogenic PAHs in oil are distinct in that they are generally alkylated and most have never been evaluated for toxicity. A review article from this research team (Envir. Health Perspect. 122, 6-9, 2014) highlighted the need for toxicological characterization of the PAHs and other toxic chemicals (e.g. benzothiophenes, naphthaenoaromatics, etc.,) in oil. The marriage of analytical chemical methodologies with cellular bioassays to identify the highly toxic compounds within fresh and weathered oil samples will help to fill this knowledge gap.

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/.

GoMRI RFP-V: Food-Grade Dispersants as Highly Efficient / Safe Materials for Oil Spills (Raghavan)

 

The Molecular Engineering of Food-Grade Dispersants as Highly Efficient and Safe Materials for the Treatment of Oil Spills project is lead by P.I. Srinivasa R. Raghavan, University of Maryland

The goal is to engineer a new class of dispersants that combine environmental safety and high efficiency. By avoiding the synthetic components in current dispersants that are of questionable toxicity, and replacing them with food-grade components, new dispersants will be created that are nontoxic and safe for use in aquatic environments. At the same time, through an improved understanding of the fundamentals of dispersion, high dispersion efficiencies will be achieved that are comparable or higher than with current dispersants i.e., the Corexits.

The use of food-grade dispersants will enable a safer and more environment-friendly approach to the mitigation of crude oil spills, which will help avert issues of public concern regarding dispersant toxicity. Molecular-level insights into dispersant action via innovative experiments will reveal ways to enhance the efficiency of dispersion and also allow for dispersants to be optimized for a variety of complex conditions (such as dispersion of highly viscous or weathered oils).

The project will involve the following five approaches: (1) Optimizing Food-Grade Surfactant Mixtures; (2) Optimizing Solvents and the Overall Dispersant; (3) Optimize Dispersants for Different Conditions (Oil, Water, Temperature); (4) Pilot-Scale Testing; and (5) Biodegradation and Toxicity Testing.

The concept of food-grade dispersants is one of the truly promising ideas to come out of the work done under C-MEDS. This project seeks to translate the inherent idea into a practical and viable technology. Towards this end, pilot-scale testing of optimized food-grade dispersants (Approach 4) will be conducted using the indoor wave tanks at S. L. Ross Environmental Research. In addition, initial tests on bacterial biodegradation in the presence of food-grade dispersants will be studied (Approach 5). The toxicity of these dispersants to aquatic species will also be studied using commercial assays, and further aspects concerning toxicity and biological effects will be investigated together with collaborators.

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/.

GoMRI RFP-V: Influence of river induced fronts on hydrocarbon transport (Kourafalou)

 

The Influence of river induced fronts on hydrocarbon transport project is lead by P.I. Villy Kourafalou, University of Miami.

The overarching study objective is to understand, quantify and be able to predict the role of river plume induced fronts and circulation regimes in enhancing, modifying or altering the transport pathways of hydrocarbons, in the presence of complex topography, shelf flows and strong oceanic currents. Strong evidence has emerged that such fronts and currents played a crucial, but poorly understood, role controlling oil pathways in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) during the Deepwater Horizon (DwH) incident. The study area will cover the entire GoM, including the Florida Straits.

Two major hypotheses will be examined: a) large river plumes create distinct circulation regimes, separated with strong fronts that are of fundamental importance for hydrocarbon transport; b) accurate estimates of hydrocarbon pathways need to take into account the thickness of oil. This study will show under what conditions river plumes may help entrain oil and guide it toward the coastline (prevailing case west of the Mississippi Delta) or may help push oil offshore, acting as a barrier for onshore pathways (prevailing case east of the Mississippi Delta). The latter is also connected to river plume interaction with offshore flows, specifically the Loop Current (LC) system.

This project proposes to employ novel analyses of satellite data, targeted field surveys, and data-guided, high resolution physical, biochemical and oil spill simulations to explore details on hydrocarbon transport, with updated methodologies to estimate and model oil thickness. Both the true conditions of the DwH incident and a variety of relevant alternative scenarios will be studied. A known active leakage site, the Taylor Energy platform near the Mississippi Delta (leaking oil since 2004) will be used for in situ estimates of oil spreading and thickness under different conditions in the surrounding environment, which is dominated by Mississippi influence and LC intrusions. These in situ data will then be used to calibrate oil thickness estimation from remote sensing, allowing a more accurate initialization of the proposed oil spill simulations. This approach will fill important knowledge gaps and result in advanced understanding of the conditions controlling the complex hydrocarbon pathways in the GoM.

Expected outcomes are to:
• Understand how fronts and circulation due to river plumes influence hydrocarbon transport
• Derive methodology to: a) measure oil spill extent and thickness, combining satellite products and in situ measurements; b) perform oil spill simulations that accommodate data-derived oil thickness.
This project is well focused on: a) understanding specific processes impacting hydrocarbon transport in the GoM, which are currently not well understood; b) accommodating a specific oil parameter (thickness) that has been challenging to estimate and, therefore, largely missing in oil spill prediction. Results will thus be of fundamental importance both scientifically and for resource management and disaster response.

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/.

GoMRI RFP-V: Transport & fate of oil in the upper ocean (Meneveau)

 

The Transport and fate of oil in the upper ocean: Studying and modeling multi-scale physical dispersion mechanisms and remediation strategies using Large Eddy Simulation project is lead by P.I. Charles Meneveau, Johns Hopkins University.

In the aftermaths of deep water blowouts, oil plumes rise through and interact with various layers of the ocean and arrive in the upper ocean. There, several physical dispersion mechanisms such as turbulence, Langmuir circulations and sub-mesoscale eddies affect their evolution. Numerical modeling of these processes is playing an increasingly important role for estimating total oil spill volume and rate of biodegradation, planning for dispersant injection, and predictions/postdictions in general.

The research activities have four main goals: (i) develop a transport model for evolution of entire distributions of oil droplet sizes in LES and effects of dispersants on the size distribution. To address this goal, a multi-species LES framework will be developed to model droplet population dynamics (droplets of various sizes), and their interactions with surfactants. Another goal is to (ii) develop the Extended Nonperiodic Domain LES for Scalar Transport (ENDLESS) methodology that enables simulating plumes extending over physical scales that greatly exceed the size of the computational LES domain and thus couples the transport with outputs from larger (meso or sub-meso) scale regional ocean models. The ENDLESS method will be validated by comparing with CARTHE Lagrangian drifter data that covers many orders of magnitude of relevant length and time scales. (iii) By means of a series of simulations, explore effects of dispersants on plume evolution for both underwater and surface application of oil dispersants, with various overall dosage, release rates and locations, under various wind and wave conditions. (iv) Results will be used to develop engineering tools for rapid real-time assessment and parameterizations for regional scale ocean models.

GoMRI RFP-V: Vertical upwelling & bottom-boundary layer dispersal at a natural seep site (Di Iorio)

 

The Vertical upwelling and bottom-boundary layer dispersal at a natural seep site project is lead by P.I. Daniela Di Iorio, University of Georgia.

The physical understanding of the vertical upwelling velocity and bottom boundary layer dispersal of a hydrocarbon seep in the Gulf of Mexico is extremely limited due to paucity of direct long-term measurements and to the time variability of the bubble plumes and boundary layer dynamics. This project is proposing to measure the vertical upwelling velocities of hydrocarbons from sea floor gas hydrates using novel acoustic forward scatter instrumentation and to improve our understanding of dispersal processes in the bottom boundary layer by making time-series measurements of 3-D velocity and hydrographic properties near a natural seep in the northern Gulf of Mexico. More specifically, we aim to 1) measure the vertical upwelling velocity of a natural hydrocarbon seep at GC600 or GC185 and its role in vertical transport of methane and oil to the surface and 2) investigate the turbulent bottom boundary layer dynamics that causes horizontal and vertical dispersal, including resuspension of hydrocarbon-containing deposits.

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/.

GoMRI RFP-V: Deep-sea Risk Assessment & Species Sensitivity (Knap)

 

The Deep-sea Risk Assessment and species sensitivity to WAF, CEWAF and Dispersant project is lead by P.I. Anthony Hayden Knap, Texas A&M University.

Subsea injection of dispersants offers some significant benefits compared to the application of dispersants on the sea surface, for example access to the freshest and non-emulsified oil in the high turbulence environment, ability to reduce the volume of required dispersant by injecting it directly into the oil stream without the loss of the product, ability to operate day and night under a wider range of weather conditions, and availability of a large water mass to rapidly decrease the concentration of a dispersed oil intrusion. Although dispersant application at the sea surface has been extensively studied, more data are needed on the efficiency and environmental impacts of dispersed oil in the subsea to evaluate and document acceptability of this response technique.

We will test a series of deep sea organisms to the effect of specific individual hydrocarbons, as well as WAF, CEWAF and Dispersant. If successful, we are hoping to develop a new method for the effects of contaminants on marine organisms.

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/.

GoMRI RFP-V: Spectroscopy for Specific Isomer Determination of Petroleum Oil Spills (Campiglia)

The A Combined Analytical and Synthetic Approach Based on Line Narrowing Spectroscopy for Specific Isomer Determination of Petroleum Oil Spills project is lead by P.I. Andres D. Campiglia, University of Central Florida.

This proposal tackles a different aspect of PAHs analysis as it focuses on detection and characterization of higher-molecular weight PAHs (HMW-PAHs), i.e. PAHs with MW equal or higher than 302 g mol-1. The HMW-PAHs isolated from environmental and combustion-related samples exhibit mutagenic activity and petroleum transformation products from HMW-PAHs persist in the environment longer than their lighter counterparts.

Studies have shown significant sedimentation of HMW-PAHs that may be increased with the addition of dispersants in a coastal setting. Their continued monitoring will ensure that HMW-PAHs present in sediments are not being redistributed and accumulating through the food chain.

When compared to un-substituted PAHs, APAHs comprise a relatively large fraction of the total number and mass of PAHs found in crude oil and crude-contaminated seafood samples. Sulfur is the principal heteroatom in coal, crude oil, tar and their by-products. Thus, to fully understand the environmental implications of the DWH accident, the ideal technique should be able to determine isomers of APAHs and PASHs

The specific research goals are the following: (a) unambiguously determine HMW-PAHs with MW 302 in complex environmental extracts from the Gulf of Mexico using the multidimensional laser excited time-resolved Shpol’skii spectroscopy (LETRSS) technique; (b) synthetize pure standards of MW 302 currently unavailable from commercial sources; and (c) extend the developed approach to the analysis of specific isomers of HMW-PAHs with MW > 302 including alkylated PAHs (APAHs) and sulfur containing PAHs (PASHs).

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/.

GoMRI RFP-V: Role of Microbial Motility for Degradation of Dispersed Oil (Conrad)

 

The Role of Microbial Motility for Degradation of Dispersed Oil project is lead by P.I. Jacinta C. Conrad, University of Houston.

Microbial biodegradation processes are thought to have played a substantial role in the surprisingly swift disappearance of oil and gas released into the Gulf of Mexico after the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon MC252 blowout. Although previous GoMRI-supported work investigated the composition of the coastal, open-open, and deepwater microbial communities that degraded this oil, much remains poorly understood regarding the impact of physical factors in heterogeneous ocean and coastal environments on the rate of microbial biodegradation. Hence there is a pressing yet unmet need to understand how (a) nearby liquid oil/liquid water or gaseous oil/liquid water interfaces, (b) fluid flow, and (c) dispersants affect microbial motility towards dispersed oil. Moreover, this need must be addressed for bacteria living in each type of ecosystem impacted by catastrophic oil spills. The objective of this project is to elucidate the effects of oil-water interfaces on motility of marine bacteria in the initial stage in biodegradation, as microbes move towards and attach to dispersed oil.
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/.

GoMRI RFP-V: Oil-Marine Snow-Mineral Aggregate Interactions and Sedimentation (Burd)

The Oil-Marine Snow-Mineral Aggregate Interactions and Sedimentation during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill project is lead by P.I. Adrian Burd, University of Georgia.

The goal of this project will be to use coagulation theory to develop a predictive, mechanistic model for how oil coagulates with particulate material in the marine environment. There is strong observational evidence that oil interacts with particles in the marine environment forming heterogeneous aggregates comprised of oil droplets, mineral particles such as clay and silica, and biological particles such as phytoplankton cells, zooplankton fecal pellets, and marine snow (large heterogeneous aggregates). Such oil-aggregates have been observed in surface waters and in sediment traps, indicating that oil contained in these aggregates can be transported vertically from the surface to the deep ocean, ultimately providing a flux of oil to the seafloor.

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 Finds UV Exposure Late in Mahi-Mahi Embryo Development Enhances Oil Toxicity

Ph.D student Jason Magnuson collects embryos at the University of Miami RSMAS. Photo provided by RECOVER.

Ph.D student Jason Magnuson collects embryos at the University of Miami RSMAS.
Photo provided by RECOVER.

Researchers conducted laboratory experiments on mahi-mahi embryos to determine the effects of ultraviolet radiation (UV) and oil co-exposure during different times in their development. The team observed that UV affected the success of mahi-mahi hatch in all exposure scenarios compared to controls but was highest (a 1.6- to 6-fold increase) when co-exposure occurred late in embryonic development. Co-exposure with weathered surface oil reduced heart rate in hatched larvae. The results suggest that the developmental window when co-exposure occurs may affect the degree of oil toxicity and exacerbate cardiac effects in developing fish. The researchers published their findings in Environmental Toxicology and ChemistryExposure to ultraviolet radiation late in development increases the toxicity of oil to mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) embryos.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill overlapped with the spawning of many pelagic Gulf of Mexico fish species including mahi-mahi, an ecologically and economically important sport fish. “Oil on its own is toxic to fish,” explained study authors Aaron Roberts and Lauren Sweet. “However, other stressors found in the fish’s environment such as ultraviolet radiation can enhance the toxicity of oil several fold. Because these embryos are found in surface waters, it’s likely that they were exposed to both UV and PAHs [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] during the spill. If we do not account for the effects of these secondary stressors, we may underestimate the effects that oil has on aquatic ecosystems.”

Previous research done under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment demonstrated that PAH compounds negatively affected cardiac function and morphological development in mahi-mahi embryos and reduced swim velocity in juveniles. The studies also suggested that natural UV light increases PAH toxicity to mahi-mahi embryos 5-fold during the first 48 hours of development. “UV light damages aquatic organisms in much the same way that people get sunburns,” explained Roberts and Sweet. “While we wear sunscreen to prevent getting a sunburn, oil acts as an ‘anti-sunscreen’ and causes more damage.”

Exposure trials used varying concentrations of high-energy water accommodated fractions (HEWAFs) for Macondo source oil and weathered oil from skimming operations. Roberts explained that the dose concentrations of naturally weathered surface oil (10μg/L) was within the range of concentrations reported during the spill (0 – 84μg/L; Diercks et al., 2010) and similar to previous NRDA-sponsored work (Alloy et al., 20162017). Dose concentrations for source oil were higher, because oil had not undergone weathering, and ranged from 4.5-29ug/L. Following UV and oil exposure, the researchers documented the number of alive and dead embryos and larvae to quantify hatching success and filmed embryos exposed to surface oil to quantify heart rate.

“Interestingly, this period of sensitivity late in development coincides with dramatic changes in their physiology that may contribute to this sensitivity, such as changes in buoyancy, metabolic rate, and yolk sac depletion,” explained Roberts. “Taken together, these data suggest that pelagic fish embryos are more sensitive to oil just prior to hatch.” The researchers note that future work is necessary to better understand the extent of late-development UV exposure cardiac dysfunction and cardiac-independent deformities.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N7JH3J60.

The study’s authors are Lauren E. SweetJason Magnuson, T. Ross Garner, Matthew M. Alloy, John D. StieglitzDaniel BenettiMartin Grosell, and Aaron P. Roberts.

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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 Parks Assesses How Disasters and Social Factors Influence Human Health

Vanessa inside a helicopter at a heliport in Cut Off, LA, where offshore oil workers commute to and from work. (Provided by Vanessa Parks)

Vanessa inside a helicopter at a heliport in Cut Off, LA, where offshore oil workers commute to and from work. (Provided by Vanessa Parks)

A person’s socioeconomic position can influence their health and well-being, and disasters can place additional strain on those whose health and well-being are already compromised.

Vanessa Parks compiles and analyzes data on Gulf Coast communities that explores how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill affected mental and physical health and how social factors contributed to post-disaster health outcomes. “I am interested in what contributes to better health outcomes, because I want to help reduce health inequalities and inequities,” Vanessa said. “If residents have access to better economic resources and health care, they are better prepared for the traumatic impacts of disasters.”

Vanessa is a Ph.D. student in Louisiana State University’s sociology program and a GoMRI Scholar with the Consortium for Resilient Gulf Communities (CRGC).

Her Path

RGC group photo at the Cut Off, LA, heliport. (Provided by Vanessa Parks)

RGC group photo at the Cut Off, LA, heliport. (Provided by Vanessa Parks)

Growing up, Vanessa was acutely aware of the public health concerns facing her hometown of Memphis, including high obesity rates, teen pregnancy, and HIV infection. However, those concerns rarely affected her affluent and largely white suburb. She first encountered the interrelationship between socioeconomic position and health working as a part-time clerk at a bankruptcy law firm while attending the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She noticed that many clients declared bankruptcy because they were unable to pay their medical bills, even if they previously had one or more stable, well-paying jobs. She realized that a person needs a deep reservoir of resources, as being sick or disabled can impair one’s ability to find work while medical expenses accrue.

Vanessa enrolled in the University of Mississippi’s sociology masters’ program and studied the role that social and economic factors play in a person’s health. She conducted numerous program evaluations related to health, education, and workforce development in the Mississippi Delta. She continues to explore the link between socioeconomic factors and health as a sociology Ph.D. student at LSU. CRGC received funding from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) soon after Vanessa began her doctoral program in 2014, and she was eager to get involved. She met Dr. Rajeev Ramchand through the program and joined his research group studying human health and well-being as it relates to environmental stressors.

Her Work

Vanessa and fellow GoMRI Scholar Jacqueline Fiore in front of a CRGC poster at the 2017 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science conference. (Provided by Vanessa Parks)

Vanessa and fellow GoMRI Scholar Jacqueline Fiore in front of a CRGC poster at the 2017 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science conference. (Provided by Vanessa Parks)

Vanessa’s research focuses on the mental and physical health of Gulf Coast communities who recently suffered from a major hurricane (Katrina) and the largest oil spill in U.S history (Deepwater Horizon). She began her research with a literature review of 1,477 medical publications documenting oil spills’ known health impacts and compiled the data into a searchable, publicly available database. Her research group used this information to develop the Survey of Trauma, Resilience, and Opportunity among Neighborhoods in the Gulf (STRONG). This survey was a household-level assessment of Deepwater Horizon impacts on social, economic, and health indices for coastal counties and parishes in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Vanessa also prepared a detailed guide to assist researchers when utilizing the survey data, including narrative information and relevant citations.

Vanessa and her team compiled STRONG survey data collected from approximately 2,500 Gulf residents. She is analyzing the survey data to investigate how factors such as occupation and community relationships contribute to the way a disaster impacts a person’s health, particularly mental health. The results of her research will help health care providers, community leaders, and policy makers make informed decisions to improve health-related outcomes when future disasters happen.

Her Learning

Vanessa (center) touring a seafood processing plant in Bayou La Batre, AL, with fellow CRGC grad students, Amanda Edelman (left) and Chelsea Adams (right). (Provided by Vanessa Parks)

Vanessa (center) touring a seafood processing plant in Bayou La Batre, AL, with fellow CRGC grad students, Amanda Edelman (left) and Chelsea Adams (right). (Provided by Vanessa Parks)

Vanessa’s use of medical journals for her literature review of oil spills’ health impacts introduced her to public health research methods and helped her identify how social scientists might use this knowledge. “It showed me the enormous potential of my work to inform other researchers, community leaders, and healthcare professionals,” said Vanessa.

Presenting her research at the 2017 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science conference was another learning opportunity for Vanessa. It was her group’s first opportunity to share the STRONG survey’s findings publicly with a broad audience. While preparing her presentation, she solicited feedback from colleagues in diverse fields and incorporated their suggestions. Despite feeling nervous, the experience improved Vanessa’s self-confidence as a researcher. “Sometimes we only want to focus on one perspective, theory, or method, but it’s extremely important to integrate others’ expertise,” she said.

Her Future

Vanessa intends to pursue a career conducting applied interdisciplinary research and work with needs-based research projects addressing disparities in health and well-being. She advises students considering a career in science to be flexible and open to new opportunities. “[Conducting Ph.D. research in Baton Rouge while working with an epidemiologist in Washington, D.C.] may seem like an unconventional arrangement, but it provided me with opportunities I couldn’t have expected,” she said.

Praise for Vanessa

Vanessa (left) with Ramchand and Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (center). (Photo by Rajeev Ramchand)

Vanessa (left) with Ramchand and Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (center). (Photo by Rajeev Ramchand)

Ramchand describes Vanessa as “an intelligent, well-poised, and articulate graduate student.” He explained that she is not only a thoughtful and hard-working researcher but also a supportive mentor and colleague, accompanying Ramchand to the launch of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ “Veterans for Responsible Solutions” initiative. Vanessa’s presentation at the 2017 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science conference exceeded Ramchand’s expectations for a graduate student and was on par with that of a seasoned researcher. “I am confident that she will continue to conduct thoughtful, important, practical, and informative research that will improve community resilience after disasters. I look forward to learning more from her,” he concluded.

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

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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 Develops Method to Quantify DOSS in Gulf of Mexico Sediments

 

Study author Samantha Joye collects Gulf of Mexico sediment samples using a multi-corer. Photo courtesy of ECOGIG.

Study author Samantha Joye collects Gulf of Mexico sediment samples using a multi-corer. Photo courtesy of ECOGIG.

Scientists developed and validated a high-resolution mass spectrometry method to fill data gaps in existing methods that detect the surfactant DOSS, a significant Corexit component, in sediments near the Deepwater Horizonspill site. The LC-QTOF-MS (LC-high mass accuracy quadruple time of flight mass spectrometry) method improved the sensitivity and selectivity required to detect small quantities of DOSS. The resulting analyses confirmed the presence of DOSS in deep-sea Gulf sediments. The researchers published their method and findings in Analytical and Bioanalytical ChemistrySelective quantification of DOSS in marine sediment and sediment-trap solids by LC-QTOF-MS.

One of the response efforts to the 2010 oil spill was the application of unprecedented amounts of chemical dispersants. Researchers often use DOSS (bis-(2-ethylhexyl) sodium sulfosuccinate) as a surrogate marker to detect Corexit in the water column and sediments. Detecting DOSS requires the ability to measure very small amounts as it dilutes and degrades over time; however, the only study that quantified DOSS in Gulf sediments reported limited performance metrics and did not include a validation or application of the method used. This study provides a fully validated analytical methodology for quantifying DOSS in sediment material and the first evaluation of DOSS in sediment trap solids.

The researchers collected sediment cores and sediment-trap solids near the Macondo wellhead during 2010 – 2013. Interferences from complex organic and inorganic matter confounded preliminary analyses that used LC-MS/MS, and attempts to “clean up” sample extracts to resolve the interferences proved ineffective. The researchers then developed and validated the LC-QTOF-MS method, which resolved this problem. The high mass accuracy of the LC-QTOF-MS method provided additional selectivity for DOSS by confirming the exact mass and isotopic distribution of significant molecular and fragment ions. The results agreed with time-matched standards, indicating a high confidence for small compound identification.

Study author Jennifer Field explained, “The use of LC-QTOF-MS allowed us to greatly reduce interferences and to quantify DOSS in sediments down to ~0.4 micrograms per kilogram (ppb) of sediment, which was important to being able to track and quantify DOSS concentrations in Gulf sediments.”

The team’s future work aims to more clearly explain spatial and temporal trends in post-spill DOSS occurrence using a larger set of Gulf sediments and sediment-trap solids collected from 2010 – 2015. “Documenting the footprint and persistence of DOSS in Gulf sediments is an important part of understanding the fate of organic components in the approximately seven million liters of Corexit applied during the oil spill response,” said Field.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N7B56GP8.

The study’s authors are Matt J. PerkinsSamantha B. Joye, and Jennifer A. Field.

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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 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (Award Number T32ES007060) and NIH grant S10RR027878.

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 Boater’s Guide on Handling Oil and Fuel Spills

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is pleased to announce a new Sea Grant informational brochure just in time for the summer boating season. The one-page guide gives boaters information on how to prepare for, respond to, and report an accidental oil or fuel spill on their vessels.

A Boater’s Guide to Handling Oil and Fuel Spills, which is available on waterproof paper, provides a list of products to prevent and/or contain leaking oil and fuel and contact information for authorities in every Gulf state.

Want a waterproof, hard copy of this guide?  Contact Tara Skelton, Sea Grant Oil Spill Outreach Team member, at tara.skelton@usm.edu.

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.

Information about upcoming Sea Grant science seminars and recently-held events is available here. 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).

Study Identifies Oil Carbons Associated with Deepwater Horizon in Terrestrial Birds

A Seaside Sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus) in the salt marshes. (Photo by Andrea Bonisoli Alquati)

A Seaside Sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus) in the salt marshes.
(Photo by Andrea Bonisoli Alquati)

Scientists analyzed the carbon composition in Seaside Sparrow tissues to learn if oil from the 2010 spill was incorporated into the terrestrial food web. The researchers found reduced radiocarbon and stable carbon concentration levels in the feathers of birds captured at oiled sites compared with birds from non-oiled sites, which is consistent with a fossil oil source. Oil-source fingerprinting of sediments collected from sites where the oil-exposed birds were found was consistent with Macondo 252 reference oil while sediments from non-oiled sites were not. These findings indicate a food web link between exposure to Deepwater Horizon oil and a terrestrial ecosystem. The researchers published their findings in Environmental Research LettersIncorporation of Deepwater Horizon oil in a terrestrial bird.

Seaside Sparrows are an indicator species of marsh contamination because their diverse diet, which includes terrestrial and marine invertebrates, exposes them to varied contaminants through multiple routes. While past analyses found that Deepwater Horizon oil entered the coastal food web, no known reports have identified the oil in entirely terrestrial organisms. This study’s researchers analyzed ten Seaside Sparrows, year-round residents of Louisiana marshes that require highly specific habitat for foraging and nesting, to trace the ecological fate of oil from the 2010 spill.

Study author Andrea Bonisoli Alquati explained their method, “As a radioactive isotope, C-14 naturally decays, and its amount in any given material halves every 5,730 years. In oil, which is buried underground for millions of years, there is no radiocarbon. So, any time an organism incorporates oil, its levels of radiocarbon are diluted by the incorporation of radiocarbon-free carbon from oil.”

Oil residues on the water’s surface in the salt marshes of Barataria Bay, Louisiana. (Photo by Andrea Bonisoli Alquati)

Oil residues on the water’s surface in the salt marshes of Barataria Bay, Louisiana.
(Photo by Andrea Bonisoli Alquati)

Radiocarbon and stable carbon levels in feathers were significantly lower in birds from the oiled site compared to the control site, which was consistent with oil incorporation. The team also analyzed sediment collected from the upper 5 cm of each site. Sediments from control and oiled sites did not differ in radiocarbon content or stable carbon isotopes. Three of the five sediment samples from the oiled site exhibited eleven out of eleven biomarkers indicative of Deepwater Horizon oil. None of the diagnostic ratios for the five sediment samples from the control site indicated the presence of Deepwater Horizon oil.

These findings show that oil spills in the ocean can contaminate terrestrial and marine ecosystems.  Bonisoli Alquati explained, “Oil exposure is not limited to aquatic organisms or to the ones that live in between the terrestrial and aquatic environments because for example they have aquatic larvae. Even the entirely terrestrial species that depend on those organisms can be exposed to oil and affected by its toxicity. The boundary between different ecosystems is blurred, and many species – as well as many contaminants – travel across that boundary.”

A potential impact of the oil’s direct toxic effect may have affected sparrow reproduction. Data from the same Seaside Sparrow population indicated reduced reproductive success in oil-exposed birds in years immediately following the spill (Burns, et al., 2014). The researchers suggest that future studies characterize how oil-derived stress propagated through the coastal food web using a larger sample size to examine multiple locations from a wider region and explicitly analyze exposure variation due to age and sex.

“We hope that the study will help us think more broadly about the damage by oil to the salt marshes,” said Bonisoli Alquati. “Salt marshes are important for protecting our coasts, including from extreme weather events, like hurricanes. Damaging one species might translate into damage to others, ultimately affecting the health of the ecosystem, and its ability to protect us.”

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC)at doi:10.7266/N7D21VN2.

The study’s authors are A. Bonisoli AlquatiP.C. StoufferR.E. TurnerS. Woltmann, and S.S. Taylor.

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

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

© 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 Mahmud Makes Acoustics and Tracking Marine Mammals “Click”

Sakib stands on the deck of the R/V Pelican during LADC-GEMM’s 2015 recovery cruise. (Photo by Natalia Sidorovskaia)

Sakib stands on the deck of the R/V Pelican during LADC-GEMM’s 2015 recovery cruise. (Photo by Natalia Sidorovskaia)

Environmental stressors can cause changes in the abundance and location of certain marine mammal species, which can affect future populations. Researchers can track marine mammals using the number of vocalizations or clicks picked up by acoustic monitoring systems, which can provide insights into their recovery from environmental stressors and, more broadly, deep-water ecosystem health.

Sakib Mahmud tests combinations of passive acoustic monitoring equipment to find the best method to detect and measure marine mammal populations affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. His findings will help improve our understanding of long-term environmental impacts of the spill on deep-diving marine mammals and aid in improving oil spill regulations, monitoring, and mitigation efforts.

Sakib is a master’s student in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL Lafayette) physics program and GoMRI Scholar with the Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center – Gulf Ecological Monitoring and Modeling (LADC-GEMM) consortium.

His Path

Sakib’s love for nature began in his childhood home of Bangladesh, a nation whose diverse ecosystems face adverse effects of climate change. He watched documentaries to learn more about science, engineering, and conservation work aimed at protecting Earth’s creatures. “Continuously increasing natural and man-made stress endangers many animals and marine species,” he said.

Sakib’s desire to explore and protect nature led him to pursue a bachelors and his first master’s degree in physics at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Bangladesh. While there, he volunteered as a researcher at the Atomic Energy Establishment. He began a second masters’ degree in physics at UL Lafayette and took a research assistantship with Dr. Natalia Sidorovskaia, the director of LADC-GEMM. “[The environmental issues in Bangladesh] motivate me to engage in research here, learn, and in the future go back to my country and work there,” said Sakib. “I was always searching for an opportunity to join a community like the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, who is working to protect nature and endangered animals.”

His Work

Sakib presents his research at a poster session during the 2017 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference. (Photo by Md Istiaq Hossain)

Sakib presents his research at a poster session during the 2017 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference. (Photo by Md Istiaq Hossain)

Bottom-moored buoys and autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs) are two platforms that perform passive acoustics monitoring of cetaceans; however, there has been no comparative analysis of these platforms. Sakib seeks to fill this gap by comparing data collected by a bottom-moored Environmental Acoustic Recording System (EARS) buoy and an ASV to investigate the relative detection efficiency of those platforms. The EARS buoys in Sakib’s study use LADC-GEMM’s built-in energy detector script that identifies and counts particular species’ acoustic signals to estimate their regional abundance. The ASVs use an open-source marine mammal detection software called PamGuard able to log marine mammal distribution and migration.

Sakib runs the EARS and ASV detector scripts separately to obtain comparative data from each platform. He also modified the EARS buoys’ LADC-GEMM energy detector script to be capable of processing both EARS and ASV data, which will allow him to compare the efficiency of platforms using either EARS buoys or ASVs. “We compare the number of sperm whale clicks detected per minute by each platform’s independent detectors with the modified LADC-GEMM energy detector,” said Sakib. He and his team are currently investigating the density distribution of sperm whales.

Sakib’s trials to date have shown that passive acoustics monitoring platforms using EARS buoys and ASVs have comparable efficiency. Researchers and responders will be able to use the monitoring systems that Sakib is testing to establish more accurate baseline data for regional sperm whale populations and monitor their post-spill recovery. The potential advancements to passive acoustic data collection and processing could also have broader applications identifying relationships between regional abundance variations and long- and short-term environmental factors, such as oil spills and changing weather conditions.

His Learning

(L-R) Kun Li, Natalia Sidorovskaia, Sakib, and Tingting Tang monitor acoustics signals in the R/V Pelican’s dry lab during LADC-GEMM’s 2015 recovery cruise. (Photo by Douglas Dugas)

(L-R) Kun Li, Natalia Sidorovskaia, Sakib, and Tingting Tang monitor acoustics signals in the R/V Pelican’s dry lab during LADC-GEMM’s 2015 recovery cruise. (Photo by Douglas Dugas)

Being a member of the LADC-GEMM research team has given Sakib the opportunity to work with leading scientists in his field, attend scientific conferences, and gain a better understanding about the research process, which he describes as a “dream come true.” He feels most honored to work alongside Sidorovskaia, whose mentorship has taught him skills from processing bioacoustics data to presenting his results. He recalls an especially memorable experience during the 2015 LADC-GEMM research cruise, “I had never seen dolphins playing in the open ocean before. While we didn’t directly see any whales, we set hydrophones and detected whales clicking in real-time throughout the whole night. It was amazing.”

His Future

Sakib plans to pursue a physics Ph.D. after completing his masters’ and use his education to improve the future conditions of Bangladesh ecosystems. He advises students considering a scientific career to explore the world around them and find a field that sparks passion. “People think scientists are all work and no fun. This is not true – we are always having fun as we discover new things about the world around us!” he said. “There are limitless possibilities with scientific research, and everyone can find an aspect of science that they enjoy.”

Praise for Sakib

(L-R) Marah Dahn, Sean Griffin, Sakib, and Kun Li recover an EARS-Bouy during the 2016 LADC-GEMM recovery cruise. (Photo by Natalia Sidorovskaia)

(L-R) Marah Dahn, Sean Griffin, Sakib, and Kun Li recover an EARS-Bouy during the 2016 LADC-GEMM recovery cruise. (Photo by Natalia Sidorovskaia)

Dr. Natalia Sidorovskaia described Sakib as someone who is dependable, ready to help, and independent when tackling difficult and unexplored problems. She said that he is a simultaneously adaptive and loyal person who, despite having to quickly adapt to a new educational system and new professional and secular culture, maintains admirable loyalty to the roots of his native culture and religion. She said, “He is great to work with in many settings: by a computer or on a research ship on the open ocean. I wish him the very best in attaining professional and personal horizons he dreams about and making a positive impact on science and people around him.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Sakib Mahmud 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 LADC-GEMM 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).

Grad Student Morales-McDevitt Explores How Nutrients Influence Marine Snow Formation

Maya presents her preliminary findings at the 2016 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference. (Provided by Maya Morales-McDevitt)

Maya presents her preliminary findings at the 2016 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference. (Provided by Maya Morales-McDevitt)

Marine oil snow is the largest commuter of carbon to the seafloor and occurs when oil and marine particles aggregate and sink through the water column. Previous studies show that oil and dispersant significantly increased marine microorganisms’ production of exopolymeric substances (EPS), an extremely sticky goo that holds marine snow together. Maya Morales-McDevitt conducts mesocosm experiments investigating how certain naturally occurring nutrients influence EPS production and oil degradation.

Maya is a chemical oceanography student at Texas A&M University and a GoMRI Scholar with Aggregation and Degradation of Dispersants and Oil by Microbial Exopolymers (ADDOMEx).

Her Path

Maya discovered her love for the marine environment while attending a science-based high school in Mexico City, Mexico. Watching trash and oil pollutants negatively affect Mexico’s marine ecosystems broke her heart and inspired her to pursue research that demonstrates the importance of regulating oil pollution. “Oil pollution regulations aren’t very clear in Mexico,” she explained. “I wanted to contribute something that would keep the environment clean and reduce our footprint in the ocean.”

Maya’s undergraduate biology thesis at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) México investigated how oil activity influences mussels. There were no active projects at the time, so she used the resources around her to conduct her own project. She asked her scuba instructor to take her on mussel-collecting excursions and washed dishes in various UAM and UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) laboratories in exchange for running analyses using their equipment. She presented her research at several international ecology conferences in Mexico. “When the person I was working with in Mexico put me in touch with Dr. Tony Knap, he told me to come [work in his lab], so I came,” she recalled. “Five or six months later, the ADDOMEx project started.”

Her Work

Maya builds a “baffled recirculation” tank to investigate accommodated oil fractions. (Provided by Maya Morales-McDevitt)

Maya builds a “baffled recirculation” tank to investigate accommodated oil fractions. (Provided by Maya Morales-McDevitt)

Maya used a 120 L tank to simulate the natural marine environment and created various mixtures of seawater, oil, dispersant. She examined each mixture once using the collected seawater’s indigenous nutrients (non-fertilized treatments) and again with added concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus (fertilized treatments). She collected samples from each treatment and compared the differences in oil degradation, marine snow generation, and chlorophyll concentrations.

Maya observed that nitrogen and phosphorus were biodegraded at similar rates, indicating that both are important to oil degradation processes. While nutrient degradation was high across all treatments including controls, nutrient enhanced treatments exhibited greater oil biodegradation than non-fertilized treatments. She found the strongest evidence of biodegradation in the diluted and concentrated oil plus dispersant treatments from the coastal water experiments. Oil plus dispersant treatments also experienced sharp reductions in chlorophyll and exhibited the greatest amounts of marine snow.

Maya’s research suggests that adding nutrients could enhance oil’s natural removal from the water column alongside weathering processes such as marine snow sedimentation and biodegradation. Her work also supports the hypothesis that dispersant enhanced EPS production and, thus, increased marine snow. Her findings will help inform decision makers about ways to lessen oil spills’ environmental impacts. “The initial interest in marine snow and EPS was the possibility that they aided oil removal, but the new train of thought is that the excessive marine snow related to Deepwater Horizon caused more hostile effects than good ones,” she said. “In order to prevent [these hostile effects], we need to understand how it works.”

Her Learning

Maya filters 50 mL of each treatment for inorganic dissolved nutrient analyses. (Provided by Maya Morales-McDevitt)

Maya filters 50 mL of each treatment for inorganic dissolved nutrient analyses. (Provided by Maya Morales-McDevitt)

Maya’s research showed her that scientists must consider the chemistry, physics, and biology of an ecosystem to understand it. Once their knowledge about these factors is improved, they are better equipped to find answers to their research questions. She remarked that one of the best ways to do this is to collaborate with other scientists. “We have physicists and chemists and biologists at our ADDOMEx All-Hands meetings who are all trying to solve problems. I think that has been one of my greatest experiences and the biggest lessons that I’ve learned in my master’s program,” she said.

Maya is particularly thankful for the support that she and other students received from the ADDOMEx team. She is most proud of how she and her team designed and built a baffled recirculation tank from scratch for their experiment. “It was very moving the way the PIs were always supporting us, pushing us to do more and do better and giving us all the advice that they could,” she said. One of her favorite memories is the struggle to fit fifteen researchers into the small, dark workspace surrounding the tanks. “I needed to be close to the tanks under very low light to take my samples. I ended up working in the men’s bathroom next to the dark room in order to take them! I will never forget my ‘laboratory’ in the men’s facilities,” she laughed.

Her Future

Shortly after graduating, Maya began a laboratory technician position with Texas A&M University’s Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG) and hopes to begin a Ph.D. program in 2018. She says that persistence is the key to her success and advises students pursuing science to focus on their goals, even when the road is difficult. “You don’t need to be a genius or the most-outstanding student in your class, you just need to be determined,” she said. “If you fight enough, read enough, and do enough research and lab work, you will get wherever it is you want to go.”

Maya and fellow ADDOMEx members on the last day of the mesocosm experiments held at Texas A&M University – Galveston in July 2016. (Provided by Maya Morales-McDevitt)

Maya and fellow ADDOMEx members on the last day of the mesocosm experiments held at Texas A&M University – Galveston in July 2016. (Provided by Maya Morales-McDevitt)

Praise for Maya

Dr. Knap reflected that Maya’s work building mesocosms and running experiments often involved late nights and long days. While working in his lab, Maya learned to operate various instruments including fluorometers, gas chromatographs, and auto-analyzers, which he said could often be a highly involved process. “Maya is a hard-worker and very cheerful individual,” he said. “She is a great team player, and it was a pleasure to have her involved with our programs at GERG.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Maya Morales-McDevitt 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 ADDOMEx 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 Documents Initial Impacts and Recovery of Benthic Foraminifera after Deepwater Horizon

Patrick Schwing measures a sediment core extracted from the Gulf of Mexico seafloor. Photo Credit: Devon Firesinger 2015

Patrick Schwing measures a sediment core extracted from the Gulf of Mexico seafloor. Photo Credit: Devon Firesinger 2015

Scientists analyzed sediment cores from two sites near the Macondo wellhead to characterize possible spill impacts on benthic foraminifera (single celled organisms with a hard shell). The team found elevated Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations and a significant decrease in density and species diversity for foraminifera. The first signs of benthic recovery took about 1 – 2 years. The researchers published their findings in Environmental Science and Pollution ResearchCharacterizing the variability of benthic foraminifera in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon event (2010-2012).

Increased flocculent deposition following the oil spill led to elevated PAH levels and altered geochemical conditions in seafloor sediment. Researchers collected sediment cores at 1000-1200 m depth from 2010-2012 at two documented oil plume locations and analyzed benthic foraminiferal fauna, organic chemistry, and metal chemistry. The team used a combined approach of biological measurements (for density and diversity) and environmental chemistry measurements (for hydrocarbon and oxygen concentrations). Results were divided into surface intervals (0 – 10 mm) and down-core intervals (10 – 50 mm).

 

Patrick Schwing and the research crew aboard the RV Justo Sierra prepare a sediment core from the southern Gulf of Mexico for analyses. Photo Credit: Devon Firesinger 2015

Patrick Schwing and the research crew aboard the RV Justo Sierra prepare a sediment core from the southern Gulf of Mexico for analyses. Photo Credit: Devon Firesinger 2015

Down-core samples from both sites resembled those from pre-spill studies. However, the surface interval samples exhibited a 3-fold increase in PAH concentrations and intensified changes in geochemical conditions in late 2010 compared to down-core samples. The surface interval samples representing late-2010 to early-2011 had the greatest difference from the down-core samples, and densities and dominant species of foraminifera resembled those found at natural seep sites.

 

There was also an absence of certain species that typically dominate natural seep sites, suggesting that they were affected by an oil release rather than a chronic seep. Recovery was gradual from late 2011 and 2012. Samples from one site exhibited protracted density recovery and rapid diversity recovery, while samples from the other site exhibited the opposite, likely the result of opportunistic species that thrive in high-petroleum areas.

Patrick Schwing displays a microscopic image of benthic foraminifera found in Gulf of Mexico sediment samples. Photo Credit: Screenscope 2014

Patrick Schwing displays a microscopic image of benthic foraminifera found in Gulf of Mexico sediment samples. Photo Credit: Screenscope 2014

Despite differences in foraminiferal community structure, short-term (oil spill) and long-term (natural seeps) hydrocarbon exposure can limit their density and diversity. The timing of the impact and the known effects of petroleum on benthic foraminifera suggest that elevated hydrocarbon concentrations in the upper 10 mm of sediment were the main driver of density and diversity variability. Reduced oxygen concentrations likely acted as a secondary driver of variability.

Study author Patrick Schwing commented on using foraminifera to monitor and mitigate oil’s environmental effects, “Foraminifera are often referred to as the ‘canaries in the coal mine,’ because they are one of the first seafloor communities to respond to changes in their environment. As bioindicators of seafloor health, foraminifera can help us understand benthic habitat suitability for demersal- and benthic-dependent fisheries and provide necessary seafloor recovery time metrics following events such as Deepwater Horizon.”

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC)at doi:10.7266/N79021PB.

Study authors are P.T. SchwingB.J. O’Malley, I.C. Romero, M. Martinez-Colon, D.W. HastingsM.A. Glabach, E.M. Hladky, A. Greco, and D.J. Hollander.

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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), the Deepsea to Coast Connectivity in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (Deep-C) consortium, and to Eckerd College, Florida International University, Florida State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Florida for their project Assessing the Impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Sediments and Benthic Communities on the West Florida Shelf and Slope.

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 Describes Response from Distinct Bacterial Groups to Marine Oil Snow

First Author Tingting Yang [right], thesis advisor Andreas Teske [left], and fellow graduate student Lisa Nigro [left] point to the multicorer full of seafloor sediments, onboard R/V Atlantis in the northern Gulf of Mexico, November 2010. Photo provided by Andreas Teske.

First Author Tingting Yang [right], thesis advisor Andreas Teske [left], and fellow graduate student Lisa Nigro [left] point to the multicorer full of seafloor sediments, onboard R/V Atlantis in the northern Gulf of Mexico, November 2010. Photo provided by Andreas Teske.

4262_lgScientists conducted genetic sequencing on bacteria to document the oil-associated groups in sediment affected by marine oil snow post-Deepwater Horizon. The researchers observed increases in bacteria that degrade aerobic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and anaerobic sulfate-reducing bacteria in sediment collected from September-November 2010. Aerobic bacteria likely used oxygen rapidly when consuming PAHs and caused localized oxygen depletion that stimulated anaerobic bacteria, who continued residual hydrocarbons degradation. Deepwater Horizon’s bacterial imprint was significantly diminished by late-November 2010 and was undetected by summer 2011, indicating that the oil spill no longer shaped the overall bacterial community structure, most likely since microbially accessible hydrocarbons had been consumed. The researchers published their findings in Frontiers in the MicrobiologyDistinct bacterial communities in surficial seafloor sediments following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout.

Oil-derived marine snow formed at the sea surface and sank to the seafloor following Deepwater Horizon. Previous studies observed the response of microbial communities in soft-bottom sediments using samples collected at a single time point or within short time frames. This study complements previous research with a long-term timeline survey of these microbial communities. The researchers obtained sediment samples near the Macondo wellhead in May 2010, September 2010, mid-October 2010, late-November 2010, and July 2011. They then derived and analyzed near-complete 16S rRNA gene clone libraries for bacteria extracted from the samples.

The May 2010 samples served as controls because they did not exhibit signs of marine snow deposition, including discoloration, visible floc, hydrocarbon or sulfide smells, or metal signatures related to altered geochemical conditions.  September 2010 samples contained floc-like hydrocarbon-smelling deposits. The mid-October 2010 samples had elevated petroleum concentrations and a distinct red-brown coloration in the upper 3 – 4 cm (indicative of redox). Late-November 2010 and July 2011 samples had a the red-brown surface layer, but no hydrocarbon smell, indicating the loss of volatile compounds.

Cycloclasticus, a genus of a PAH-degrading bacteria reported in Deepwater Horizon-related surface slicks, deep plume, and post-plume deep water, were present in the fall 2010 samples. Roseobacter bacteria, which may play an important role in alkane and PAH degradation, were also abundant in the September 2010 samples. The October 2010 samples exhibited a sharp increase in sulfate-reducing anaerobic Deltaproteobacteria. Increased abundances of PAH-degrading bacteria coincided with the marine oil snow sedimentation event, suggesting that marine snow likely transported the bacteria to the seafloor.

Seafloor microbial populations responded to the marine snow fallout in waves of physiologically and evolutionarily different microbial groups that successively degraded hydrocarbons. Study author Andreas Teske explained, “Some of these microbial players are indigenous to the seafloor sediments in the sense that they are never found in the water column. Others appear to be equally at home on the seafloor and in the oil-contaminated marine snow particles that sank through the water column. Finally, some of these particle-associated microbes are not native to sediments but appear to hitch a ride down to the seafloor.”

According to Teske, further analysis identified some previously unknown hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria. “The catalogue of known oil-degrading bacteria appears to be surprisingly incomplete. The ‘usual suspects’ are limited to relatively few bacterial species and genera that have been studied in the lab,” he said. “As soon as you compare these well-studied oil degraders with those populations that are responding strongly to the oil spill in nature, it becomes clear that many microbial oil degraders have not been cultured and studied at all.”

Data for this study are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N7RF5S21.

The study’s authors are Tingting Yang, Kelly Speare, Luke McKayBarbara J. MacGregorSamantha B. Joye, and Andreas Teske.

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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 National Science Foundation (RAPID Response: the microbial response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill; NSF-OCE 1045115).

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 Expands Analytical Window for Marine and Oil Spill Chemistry

Tesla Petroleomics Centre at the University of Calgary. Bruker SolariX FTICR-MS is shown at the right hand side. From R-L: Dr. Jagos Radovic, Postdoctoral Fellow; Melisa Brown, FTICR-MS analyst; Ryan Snowdon, IT specialist; Aprami Jaggi, PhD student; Dr. Stephen Larter, Professor; Dr. Thomas Oldenburg, Adjunct Professor (Photo credit: Chloe Duong).

Tesla Petroleomics Centre at the University of Calgary. Bruker SolariX FTICR-MS is shown at the right hand side. From R-L: Dr. Jagos Radovic, Postdoctoral Fellow; Melisa Brown, FTICR-MS analyst; Ryan Snowdon, IT specialist; Aprami Jaggi, PhD student; Dr. Stephen Larter, Professor; Dr. Thomas Oldenburg, Adjunct Professor (Photo credit: Chloe Duong).

Scientists tested a new analytical method for a fast and comprehensive characterization of organic compounds in marine sediments. The Rapid Analyte Detection and Reconnaissance (RADAR) method couples atmospheric pressure photoionization in positive ion mode (APPI-P) with Fourier transform ion cyclotron mass spectrometry (FTICR-MS). Twelve minutes of analysis provided a simultaneous detection and identification of thousands of compounds not typically monitored by traditional methods, including the discovery of potential novel molecular species. Knowledge of the natural background biogenic species composition in sediments is necessary to establish pre-Deepwater Horizon benchmarks and to better understand the effects of the marine oil snow sedimentation event. The researchers published their work in Rapid Communications in Mass SpectrometryA rapid method to assess a broad inventory of organic species in marine sediments using ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry.

Scientists can reconstruct past environments, processes, and communities using organic biomarkers found in marine sediments to better understand how complex variables, such as carbon cycling, climate change, and pollution, affect marine ecosystems. Traditional methods analyze sedimentary biomarkers using gas or liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry. However, these methods typically include time-intensive sample preparation and target only a small amount of sedimentary species. This study presents a faster and more comprehensive analytical strategy that targets a broad range of known and potential biomarkers.

FTICR-MS ionizes samples with a negative or positive charge (in the case of this study) and introduces them into a strong magnetic field, where they are accelerated to a circular trajectory. Each molecule’s movement gives off a distinct frequency based on its mass-to-charge ratio (i.e., lighter molecule ions spin faster than heavier molecule ions with the same charge). Scientists can use this frequency to identify a plethora of compounds up to a mass difference of only one electron in milligram-sized samples.

The researchers tested the RADAR method using a sediment core collected at 1100 m water depth, identifying 3,000 – 5,000 compounds per sample with 90% showing an absolute error lower than 200 ppb. The detected species belonged to the NO1–7, N4O2–8, O1–9, HC, N, and OS compound classes and included known biomarker species and potential biomarkers with currently unknown molecular structures.

Study author Jagos Radovic explained that FTICR-MS is the only technique that can perform this rapid and detailed characterization and classification of heavy petroleum fractions and oxidized weathering products . “These oil constituents have the potential to be very recalcitrant and can persist in marine environments as deep water sediments or dissolved organic matter,” he said. “Furthermore, the bioavailability and toxicity of such compounds are still poorly understood, mainly due to the limitations of conventional analytical strategies. FTICR-MS and RADAR can overcome these limitations.”

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N71R6NGQ.

The study’s authors are Jagos R. Radovic, Renzo C. Silva, Ryan W. SnowdonMelisa BrownSteve Larter, and Thomas B.P. Oldenburg.

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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 Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and Canada Research Chairs (CRC), PRG, and the University of Calgary.

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).

Studies Highlight Complexities in Connecting Larval Fish Health to Deepwater Horizon

Co-authors John Ransom (former GoMRI Scholar) and Dr. Jesse Filbrun (former GoMRI postdoc) prepare to deploy the BIONESS plankton sampler. (credit: USM Fisheries Oceanography and Ecology Lab) [Click to enlarge...]

Co-authors John Ransom (former GoMRI Scholar) and Dr. Jesse Filbrun (former GoMRI postdoc) prepare to deploy the BIONESS plankton sampler. (credit: USM Fisheries Oceanography and Ecology Lab) [Click to enlarge…]

Scientists examined Red Snapper and Spanish Mackerel larvae before, during, and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to determine if and how the spill may have affected them. The researchers observed that Red Snapper larvae were in poorer condition during and after the spill compared to pre-spill metrics, which may affect lifetime growth and fitness. However, this trend was also strongly related to peak freshwater discharge from Mobile Bay, though the mechanisms driving this relationship are unclear.  Conversely, the condition of Spanish Mackerel larvae improved during the spill. Larval abundance or supply was not affected in either species. These results suggest species-specific responses to the oil spill as well as impacts from other environmental factors. The researchers published their findings in Environmental Research LettersCondition of larval red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) relative to environmental variability and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Marine Ecology Progress SeriesCondition of larval Spanish mackerel Scomberomorus maculatus in relation to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill and subsequent chemical dispersant application overlapped with many fish species’ spawning periods, a vulnerable time for eggs and larvae. Relatively small changes in larval mortality rates from natural causes have the potential to cause order-of-magnitude changes in juvenile recruitment. Therefore, additional mortality related to the timing of the oil spill may have significant impacts on recruitment, affecting fisheries yields and management strategies.

Co-author (and former NOAA NGI Diversity Program intern) Jeff Fang rinses a plankton sample at sea. (credit: USM Fisheries Oceanography and Ecology Lab)

Co-author (and former NOAA NGI Diversity Program intern) Jeff Fang rinses a plankton sample at sea. (credit: USM Fisheries Oceanography and Ecology Lab) [Click to enlarge…\

Scientists compared Red Snapper and Spanish Mackerel larvae collected during long-term ichthyoplankton surveys of Deepwater Horizon-impacted sampling stations off the coast of Dauphin Island before (2007-2009), during (2010), and after (2011, 2013) the spill. The team assessed changes in larval body condition using weight-based indices and size-and-shape measurements. To assess potential effects from changing environmental and trophic conditions, the team examined background environmental conditions for Red Snapper larvae and whole-body stable carbon and nitrogen isotope measurements for Spanish Mackerel larvae.

Red Snapper larvae collected during and after the spill were skinnier and weighed less than pre-spill samples, but their body conditions appeared better at nearshore stations than offshore stations and improved as summer progressed across all years. Spanish Mackerel larvae collected during the spill were in generally better condition relative to pre- or post-spill larvae, as indicated by morphometric measurements and length-standardized dry weight. Stable isotope measurements did not suggest a change in Spanish Mackerel feeding patterns and were unclear in determining if Spanish Mackerel larvae assimilated oil carbon.

The researchers acknowledged that their study did not provide enough evidence to directly attribute the observed changes in larval body condition to the Deepwater Horizon spill and that the impacts could have resulted from other environmental factors. However, they noted that their findings do suggest that a combination of factors that coincided with the oil spill negatively impacted Red Snapper larvae compared to the more resilient Spanish Mackerel. Both papers highlight the importance of monitoring programs and need for long-term data collection.

Data used in these studies are publically available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC): Hernandez, et al., doi:10.7266/N7J964CB and Ransom, et al., doi:10.7266/N7J67DZM.

The study’s authors are F.J. Hernandez, Jr.J.E. FilbrunJ. Fang, and J.T. Ransom (Environmental Research Letters) and J.T. Ransom, J.E. Filbrun, and F.J. Hernandez (Marine Ecology Progress Series).

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This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the University of Southern Mississippi Division of Coastal Sciences for their project Resolving Deepwater Horizon Impacts on Highly Variable Ichthyoplankton and Zooplankton Dynamics in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.

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 Investigates Influence of Hurricanes on Ocean Surface Currents

Hurricane Isaac from August 26 – 31, 2012 and GLAD drifter trajectories (thin black and red lines) during the same time period. More details about this image are available in the publication, Figure 1. Image provided by Shuyi S. Chen, Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami.

Hurricane Isaac from August 26 – 31, 2012 and GLAD drifter trajectories (thin black and red lines) during the same time period. More details about this image are available in the publication, Figure 1. Image provided by Shuyi S. Chen, Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami.  (Click image to enlarge…)

Scientists used GPS data collected from ocean drifters during Hurricane Isaac with a coupled atmosphere-wave-ocean model to better understand how hurricanes affect upper ocean circulation. The researchers found that hurricane-induced Stokes drift (wind-wave-driven water mass transport) created a cyclonic rotational flow to the storm’s left and an anticyclonic rotational flow to its right. Stokes drift accounted for more than 20% of the average current’s velocity and changed its direction up to 90 degrees, significantly enhancing shoreward upper ocean transport on the storm’s right side. The team estimated that the spread rate for these surface flows was 6 times larger than before the storm, a significant deviation from recognized measurements of lateral dispersion during non-hurricane conditions. The scientists published their findings in Geophysical Research LettersHurricane-induced ocean waves and stokes drift and their impacts on surface transport and dispersion in the Gulf of Mexico.

Previous research has demonstrated the importance of Stokes drift in local upper ocean circulation. However, Stokes drift’s effect on storm-scale surface currents has never been studied using in situ observations and coupled modeling. Because hurricanes produce extremely high winds and waves that significantly impact upper ocean circulation and water mass transport, it is important to better understand and predict their influence during events like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Grand Lagrangian Deployment (GLAD) field campaign released nearly 300 surface drifters in July 2012 near the Deepwater Horizon site and transmitted GPS data that tracked the transport and dispersion dynamics of submesoscale and mesoscale ocean flow for several months. Hurricane Isaac entered the Gulf of Mexico and traveled through the drifter experiment site at the end of August. The timing and the coincidence of the two events offered an unexpected opportunity to look into how hurricanes affect water movement. Hurricane Isaac subjected the drifters to strong winds and waves, and the drifters captured unprecedented high-spatial and temporal resolution measurements of near-surface Lagrangian velocity, which researchers used to improve wind, waves and ocean circulation forecasts. This study helps further improve coupled models and contributes to better forecasts of ocean transport.

GLAD drifter measurements confirmed that the Eulerian current typically used in ocean circulation models without coupling to the wind and waves underestimates near-surface water mass transport under strong wind conditions. These findings indicate that Stokes drift should be included in upper ocean transport model predictions in the event of an oil spill, especially under high-wind conditions.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at doi:10.7266/N7VD6WC8doi:10.7266/N7KW5CX6doi:10.7266/N7G44N66, and doi:10.7266/N7BG2KWS.

The study’s authors are Milan CurcicShuyi S. Chen, and Tamay M. Ozgokmen.

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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 under the National Oceanography Partnership Program (N0001401010162).

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/.

GoMRI RFP-V: Wetland plant-microbial-benthic ecosystem responses & mitigation strategy (Lin)

The Long-Term Impact, Recovery and Resilience: Wetland plant-microbial-benthic ecosystem responses to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and mitigation strategies promoting sustainability by P.I. Qianxin Lin, Louisiana State University

Researcher Qianxin Lin

Researcher Qianxin Lin

The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill exposed the nation’s largest and most productive wetland estuarine environment, the Mississippi River Delta coastal wetland ecosystem, to an unprecedented potential for environmental damage. The coastal marshes are of special concern because of the suite of environmentally and economically important services they support, all of which depend on a healthy, well-functioning plant-microbial-benthic complex that drives the food web base.

Over the last five years, the PI’s team has monitored DWH oil spill effects in Louisiana, making 12 field-based data collections that have quantified both the impacts on, and recovery of, a broad array of flora and fauna. Continuing this research is especially important along heavy oiled shorelines where the marsh plants that serve as foundation species suffered severe mortality. Results to date indicate that recovery is occurring but not yet complete.

Hence, a much longer-term study is needed to fully quantify the recovery of the plant-microbial- benthic complex and to better understand marsh resiliency. Furthermore, the PI’s team has initiated, and is currently monitoring a remediation/restoration effort that could accelerate the recovery rate of lost ecological services.

Therefore, the overall goals of this proposed research are to (1) document the long-term impacts of the DWH oil spill on the coastal marsh plant-microbial-benthic complex, (2) quantify rates of, and controls on, long-term recovery, and (3) evaluate the potential and effectiveness of a restoration and remediation strategy for promoting and accelerating long-term sustainability. This proposed research supports GoMRI theme 3: (1) knowledge of environmental effects of petroleum on wetlands, marshes and organisms and (2) the science of ecosystem recovery and means for accelerating recovery.

The proposed research will emphasize ecological assessments of plant structure and function, interactions within the plant-microbe-benthic complex, cultivation-based and modern molecular biological analysis of microbial communities, algal and invertebrate responses, biogeochemistry, digital aerial imagery for erosion assessment, and overall marsh integrity. This research will provide a better scientific understanding of the oil spill effects and long-term recovery of the plant-microbial-benthic ecosystem, as well as practical information concerning strategies for accelerating ecosystem recovery, and thus long-term sustainability, of oil impacted coastal wetlands.

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/.

 

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

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

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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/.

Can Bacteria Living in Plant Tissues Help Clean Up Oiled Marshes?

Postdoc Brittany Bernik strains marsh mud through a screen to prepare it for greenhouse experiments at Tulane University. (Photo by Sunshine Van Bael)

Postdoc Brittany Bernik strains marsh mud through a screen to prepare it for greenhouse experiments at Tulane University. (Photo by Sunshine Van Bael)

Living inside the roots and leaf tissues of marsh grass are bacteria and fungi known as endophytes that help promote plant growth. Since some endophytes can also help degrade petroleum that the plants absorb, it is possible they could be a natural tool to help clean up oil buried in marsh soils.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) recently awarded Dr. Sunshine Van Bael a grant to explore plant-bacterial symbioses as they relate to petroleum and dispersant pollution in coastal salt marshes. Her team is investigating how endophyte communities inside oiled coastal plants incorporate and amplify oil-degrading bacteria and if plants can deliver endophytic bacteria to polluted soils, hastening petroleum biodegradation. The team will use their findings to learn how plant-bacterial combinations may be used to quickly and safely restore oiled marshes.

Ph.D. student Stephen Formel helps collect soil at Bay Jimmy in Barataria Bay. (Photo by Brittany Bernik)

Ph.D. student Stephen Formel helps collect soil at Bay Jimmy in Barataria Bay. (Photo by Brittany Bernik)

Preliminary research suggests that when coastal grasses are contaminated with petroleum, the bacterial communities in their tissues incorporate more taxa with petroleum tolerance and biodegradation capabilities. However, these processes are not well characterized. Improving our understanding about the mechanisms driving how grasses, symbiotic bacteria, and polluted soil interact could lead to the development of tools that use plant-delivered, naturally occurring bacteria to clean up polluted soils.

The team is conducting field work and controlled greenhouse experiments to identify how bacteria and bacterial communities behave in oiled and unoiled sites and determine how quickly the oil in soil and plant tissues are broken down. Next, they will investigate the bacteria’s interactions with oil droplets and oxygen and see if plant roots can deliver oxygen and bacteria to oil buried in the marsh soil.

The greenhouse experiment at Tulane University was set up in June 2016 to test how plants and their symbionts work together to clean up oil. (Photo by Stephen Formel)

The greenhouse experiment at Tulane University was set up in June 2016 to test how plants and their symbionts work together to clean up oil. (Photo by Stephen Formel)

“We know a lot about how bacteria break down oil in the ocean and on the beach, but we haven’t really investigated if and how this happens inside of the plant,” said Van Bael. “We hope to learn how plants and their microbial symbionts can influence oil spill clean-up, especially the possibility that the best tool to help clean up oil in buried marsh soils faster is plant-bacterial combinations.”

The project’s researchers are Sunshine Van Bael, Kyriakos D. Papadopoulos, Michael Blum, and Lisa Fauci of Tulane University, Claudia Gunsch of Duke University, and John Pardue of Louisiana State University. Their project is Chemical Evolution and Plant-Microbe Degradation of Petroleum in Saline Marsh Plants and Soils.

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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/.

Study Suggests Wider Range of Mahi-Mahi’s Genetic Responses to Oil Exposure

Mahi-mahi. Photo provided by Dan DiNicola, RECOVER Outreach Coordinator

Mahi-mahi. Photo provided by Dan DiNicola,
RECOVER Outreach Coordinator

Scientists used novel bioinformatics to investigate molecular-level changes over time and toxicity pathways in mahi-mahi embryos and larvae exposed to Deepwater Horizon oil. They observed that weathered oil (collected from slick skimming operations) induced more pronounced gene expression changes than a non-weathered source oil (collected from the subsea containment system directly over the wellhead). The tools predicted impairment of heart rates and increased pericardial edema which the researchers observed in the fish. The method also predicted disturbances in eye and nervous system development. These results suggest new genetic and developmental toxicity pathways targets associated with Deepwater Horizon oil. They published their findings in Environmental Science and Technology: Time- and oil-dependent transcriptomic and physiological responses to Deepwater Horizon oil in mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) embryos and larvae.

The timing and location of the oil spill coincided with the spawning window for many economically and ecologically important Gulf of Mexico fish species. Natural weathering processes can significantly alter the composition and structure of individual polyaromatic hydrocarbons in the water column possibly increasing oil toxicity. This study builds on recent research about early life stage fish heart health and oil exposure. Researchers conducted exposure experiments with mahi-mahi embryos and water-accommodated fractions of weathered and non-weathered oil at 24, 48, and 96 hours post-fertilization. Using high throughput RNA sequencing and gene signature identification software (On-RAMP; Ingenuity Pathway Analysis), the team analyzed the regulatory directions of gene expression, making it possible to predict additional biochemical, cellular, and tissue pathways targets for the oil.

The researchers observed that both oils induced similar molecular responses at 24 hours, but there were more prominent changes in gene expression in weathered oiled treatments at 48 and 96 hours. The number of genes that were differentially expressed increased from 196 (48 hours) to 1,469 (96 hours) in weathered-oil treatments compared to increases of 128 to 297, respectively, in non-weathered oil treatments. The study provides more detailed genomic responses which indicate affecting specific molecular functions may be altered.

“By understanding how fossil fuels cause toxicity, we can have a better understanding of the risks associated with these contaminants and determine regulatory or management strategies that reduce risks,” commented study co-author Daniel Schlenk. “This experiment was the first to demonstrate that weathered oil more significantly altered gene expression than unweathered oil and suggests that there are multiple targets of oil toxicity to this species at this life stage, including the heart, eye, and neurological systems.”

The researchers noted that their use of rapid genomics annotation analyses coupled with advanced informatics tools may be useful elsewhere to identify species specific molecular and physiological responses to environmental contamination.

Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at https://data.gulfresearchinitiative.org (doi:10.7266/N7BG2M0J).

The study’s authors are Elvis Genbo Xu, Edward M. Mager, Martin Grosell, Christina Pasparakis, Lela S. Schlenker, John D. Stieglitz, Daniel Benetti, E. Starr Hazard, Sean M. Courtney, Graciel Diamante, Juliane Freitas, Gary Hardiman, and Daniel Schlenk.

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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. Other funding sources included the Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine and the Genomics Shared Resource, Hollings Cancer Center.

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/.

Science at the Stadium Scores Big with Game-Day Attendees

Graduate student Fanny Girard (left) joins game-day fans at the ECOGIG-II Ocean Discovery Zone. The coral banner makes a beautiful photo backdrop! (Photo by ECOGIG-II)

Graduate student Fanny Girard (left) joins game-day fans at the ECOGIG-II Ocean Discovery Zone. The coral banner makes a beautiful photo backdrop! (Photo by ECOGIG-II)

Scientists and education staff have tapped into a novel venue – football games – to reach new audiences and share ongoing research and ocean technology. The research consortium Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf II (ECOGIG II), funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), took their mobile Ocean Discovery Zone on the road to State College, PA for the Penn State Nittany Lions season opener.

“Football is a passion for people around the country, and a remarkable number of people fill stadiums every Saturday in the fall,” explained Sara Beresford, the Communications and Outreach Lead for ECOGIG-II, on why they chose this venue.  “Hosting our exhibit during tailgating, we’re able to interact with and reach people who might not otherwise seek out the information we can provide.”

Visitors can drive a model Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to learn about an important piece of technology used in deep ocean research. Visitors also can build deepwater corals, see a model of a natural hydrocarbon seep, and view video content and information displays about the Gulf and deepsea exploration. Game-day fans can attend four more Ocean Discovery Zone events in the southeast this year.

 

These young fans enjoyed playing Gulf of Mexico themed cornhole! (Photo by ECOGIG-II)

A: Graduate student Sarah Harrison explains to young fans how scientists use ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) technology. Visitors can drive the model ROV and earn honorary ECOGIG Pilot’s Licenses.  B: A coral enthusiast built a replica of the deepwater coral polyp displayed on one of our tent sidewalls.  C: Pen State fans used the ROVs to collect replications of deep sea animals from the bottom of the tank and learned about life in the deepest parts of the Gulf of Mexico.  D: ECOGIG education and outreach lead Sara Beresford helps fans build deepwater corals to take home. This station was quite popular with everyone!  E: Pen State fans used the ROVs to collect replications of deep sea animals from the bottom of the tank and learned about life in the deepest parts of the Gulf of Mexico.  F: This young fan enjoyed playing Gulf of Mexico themed cornhole! (All Photos by ECOGIG-II)

“For me, the most exciting part of the program is the opportunity to engage with visitors – both children and adults – and share stories with them about our work and its relevance for the Gulf of Mexico and the global oceans,” said Dr. Samantha Joye, the Director of ECOGIG-II. “I’m always impressed by the questions I’m asked and by the enthusiasm I see, especially in young people. Seeing these young kids get inspired and start asking thought-provoking questions about the Gulf of Mexico and oceans in general is really special.”

Fans met several scientists at Penn State, including ECOGIG-II co-Principal Investigators Dr. Charles Fisher and Dr. Iliana Baums, and learned about their research on the unique deepwater coral communities in the Gulf.

Want to join the fun?  The 2016 Science in the Stadium schedule is available here.

Read more about ECOGIG II and their research on their website and Facebook page.

Read about last year’s events at What a Matchup! SEC Football and Science at the Stadium.

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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/.

Join the 2017 NOAA Teacher-at-Sea Program

Teacher-at-Sea 2017

The Gulf of Mexico Alliance’s Education and Engagement Team is pleased to announce NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program will accept applications for 2017 starting in November. Applications and references are accepted only through an online application system from November 1 – 302016. The application closes at 5:00 pm ET on November 30.

Until then, interested applicants should:
1. Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page to learn more about program eligibility and expectations. http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/#/faqs/

  1. Download the pdf preview of our application to review the questions that we ask and, if so inclined, begin preparing responses. http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/about/applications/NOAA_TAS_Blank_Application_2017.pdf

About NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program

The mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea Program is to provide teachers pre-kindergarten through college-level teachers a hands-on, real-world research experience working at sea with world-renowned NOAA scientists, thereby giving teachers unique insight into oceanic and atmospheric research crucial to the nation.

Dispatches from the Gulf: Sizzle/Tease Trailer

It happened on April 20, 2010 – 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling rig exploded. Tragically – the blowout killed 11 – and changed the lives of millions living near the Gulf coast – as well as hundreds of scientists who responded to the crisis.

To discover what happened – scientists from around the world turned their attention to the Gulf of Mexico. A whole research community has developed dedicated to finding new and unique methods to understand the oil pollution process.

Share your thoughts at the following Dispatches from the Gulf Social Media links:

YouTube ChannelFacebookTwitter

 

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“Dispatches from the Gulf” is a new Journey to Planet Earth (J2PE) episode showing how scientists confront the challenges of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The documentary also investigates the impact of the event on the ecosystems and communities along the Gulf of Mexico.

J2PE dramatizes new ways of looking at the delicate relationship between people and the world they inhabit. The series is designed to help viewers understand and cope with the most important environmental issues of the 21st century.

Through an interdisciplinary approach, these programs reach beyond the physical sciences and draw connections to politics, economics, sociology, and history. A common thread runs throughout — the necessity to achieve a balance between the needs of people and the needs of the environment. Though photographed on different continents and focusing on different sets of problems, audiences come to see why all of these stories are connected, providing a dramatic mosaic of how the Earth works as an interrelated system.

Close Encounters with a Sperm Whale (Dispatches from the Gulf)

Whale Encounter

 

Professor Scott Socolofsky at Texas A&M University witnesses an unexpected visitor of the cetacean kind while conducting deep-sea research in the Gulf of Mexico.


The creators of award-winning environmental series Journey to Planet Earth (hosted by Matt Damon) present Dispatches from the Gulf – an upcoming documentary film and educational outreach initiative highlighting exclusive scientific discoveries in health, ecosystems, innovation and recovery in the post-oil spill Gulf of Mexico.

Share your thoughts at the following “Dispatches from the Gulf” Social Media links:

YouTube ChannelFacebookTwitter

 

 

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“Dispatches from the Gulf” is a new Journey to Planet Earth (J2PE) episode showing how scientists confront the challenges of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The documentary also investigates the impact of the event on the ecosystems and communities along the Gulf of Mexico.

J2PE dramatizes new ways of looking at the delicate relationship between people and the world they inhabit. The series is designed to help viewers understand and cope with the most important environmental issues of the 21st century.

Through an interdisciplinary approach, these programs reach beyond the physical sciences and draw connections to politics, economics, sociology, and history. A common thread runs throughout — the necessity to achieve a balance between the needs of people and the needs of the environment. Though photographed on different continents and focusing on different sets of problems, audiences come to see why all of these stories are connected, providing a dramatic mosaic of how the Earth works as an interrelated system.

Study Finds Natural Sunlight Affects Oil-Degrading Bacteria Composition and Dynamics

Dr. Hernando Bacosa works at the seawater filtration system aboard the R/V Pelican 2013 cruise to the Deepwater Horizon site in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo provided by Hernando Bacosa.

Dr. Hernando Bacosa works at the seawater filtration system aboard the R/V Pelican 2013 cruise to the Deepwater Horizon site in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo provided by Hernando Bacosa.

Scientists from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute demonstrated how natural sunlight affects Gulf of Mexico microbial communities in the presence of Corexit (dispersant) and crude oil. They observed that sunlight significantly reduced the diversity of bacterial communities in the presence of oil, Corexit, or both. While sunlight negatively affected several bacterial groups, it also preferentially selected certain bacteria. Their findings are a first to show that sunlight is a key driver for microbial community structure shifts and in determining bacterial composition and dynamics in oil-polluted surface waters. They published their results in Frontiers in Microbiology: Natural sunlight shapes crude oil-degrading bacterial communities in northern Gulf of Mexico surface waters.

Scientists have studied how oil-degrading bacterial communities interact with oil in deep Gulf of Mexico waters; however, the sea surface is a more complex environment where oil dissolution, dispersion, emulsification, evaporation, biodegradation, and photochemical degradation all occur, often simultaneously. This study’s team conducted a 36-day exposure experiment using surface water assemblages collected near the Deepwater Horizon site in May 2013. They incubated the samples under strong natural sunlight from May to July and under dark conditions while maintaining ambient water temperature to reflect conditions during the oil spill.

Using DNA extraction and pyrosequencing, the researchers analyzed bacterial communities for total abundance, density of alkane and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon degraders, and community composition. For treatments with oil and/or Corexit, sunlight greatly reduced the abundance of the Cyanobacterium Synechococcus but increased the relative abundances of Alteromonas, Marinobacter, Labrenzia, Sandarakinotalea, Bartonella, and Halomonas, consistent with the field observations. The study provides more details about other bacterial community responses under various treatment conditions.

The authors explained that while they did not totally account for all physical and chemical processes affecting oil fate, their findings provide important results on the evolution of the microbial communities under the influence of oil, Corexit, and sunlight. Further studies are needed to evaluate the impacts of different concentrations of crude oil and Corexit, weathered oil, and photooxidation metabolites on bacterial communities.

The study’s authors are Hernando P. Bacosa, Zhanfei Liu, and Deana L. Erdner.

This paper’s data was submitted to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) and are available at http://data.gulfresearchinitiative.org/data/R1.x140.126:0005 (sequences) and https://data.gulfresearchinitiative.org/data/R1.x140.126:0006/ (relative abundances of bacteria genera). The data were also submitted to NCBI Sequence Read Archive (SRA) under the Accession SAMN04054215.

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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/.

Meet Tracie Sempier: Helping the People of the Gulf

Tracie Sempier

Tracie Sempier, Ph.D (Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium) is a coastal storms outreach coordinator. She describes how after the Deepwater Horizon Event her work shifted from helping people prepare for and recover from natural disasters – like hurricanes – to helping people recover from man-made, technological disasters – like oil spills.


The creators of award-winning environmental series Journey to Planet Earth (hosted by Matt Damon) present Dispatches from the Gulf – an upcoming documentary film and educational outreach initiative highlighting exclusive scientific discoveries in health, ecosystems, innovation and recovery in the post-oil spill Gulf of Mexico.

Share your thoughts at the following “Dispatches from the Gulf” Social Media links:

YouTube ChannelFacebookTwitter

 

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Dispatches from the Gulf” is a new Journey to Planet Earth (J2PE) episode showing how scientists confront the challenges of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The documentary also investigates the impact of the event on the ecosystems and communities along the Gulf of Mexico.

J2PE dramatizes new ways of looking at the delicate relationship between people and the world they inhabit. The series is designed to help viewers understand and cope with the most important environmental issues of the 21st century.

Through an interdisciplinary approach, these programs reach beyond the physical sciences and draw connections to politics, economics, sociology, and history. A common thread runs throughout — the necessity to achieve a balance between the needs of people and the needs of the environment. Though photographed on different continents and focusing on different sets of problems, audiences come to see why all of these stories are connected, providing a dramatic mosaic of how the Earth works as an interrelated system.

Scientists Use Oil Spill Research to Track Pollution in Biscayne Bay

The CARTHE team is receiving data from 15 biodegradable, GPS-equipped drifters. This image shows the tracks after 24 hours. (Image by CARTHE)

The CARTHE team is receiving data from 15 biodegradable, GPS-equipped drifters. This image shows the tracks after 24 hours. (Image by CARTHE)

It’s almost like a game of tug-of-war. There are growing numbers of residents, tourists, and industry at one end and the environment where people live, work, and play at the other. When the former increases, the latter is stressed. This scenario plays out all over the world, especially in coastal areas.

Biscayne Bay near Miami, Florida, is one of these areas. Its population, visitors, and businesses are booming, and its main harbor is expanding to accommodate large vessels in response to the widening of the Panama Canal. This growth has come with increased trash, wastewater runoff, and pollution that end up in the Bay, on beaches, and in mangrove forests. However, scientists are tugging on the same side of the rope as local citizens, pulling resources together to address this environmental concern.

Families worked with Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami Science Barge, and Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science to beautifully paint cards for the Bay Drift study. (Photo by Laura Bracken)

Families worked with Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami Science Barge, and Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science to beautifully paint cards for the Bay Drift study. (Photo by Laura Bracken)

Recently, members of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens noticed that a lot of debris was accumulating at their waterfront, and they wanted to know why. Vizcaya contacted the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science  who in turn contacted the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment II (CARTHE II) based at the University of Miami. Other local groups joined the conversation: The International SeaKeepers Society, Insetta Boatworks, Miami Waterkeeper, Miami Science Barge, Surfrider Foundation Miami Chapter, and Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves. Conversations turned into action which resulted in the Bay Drift Study.

Drifter cards

Each yellow card is coded and has information that introduces the project and instructs the finder how to report its location. Tracking the location where drift cards are released and found helps researchers to learn how the currents distribute debris in Biscayne Bay (Photo by Laura Bracken)

“This project is an enormous collaborative effort,” said CARTHE Outreach Lead Laura Bracken. “The groups we have partnered with and the many people who have heard about the project want to get involved because they feel so passionately about the issue.”

CARTHE, funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, has developed the scientific expertise that is perfect for learning about how particles move in water. They have been conducting research since 2012 to improve our understanding about how ocean currents affected the movement of Deepwater Horizon oil.

“Large oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon event don’t happen very often, but there are continuous pollution events that occur near coastal cities that can take an economic toll,” said Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science oceanographer and CARTHE Director Tamay Özgökmen. “We can use the same technologies we developed to study the oil spill and apply them to address this problem.”

Graduate student releases drifter.

Graduate student Simge Bilgen, a CARTHE team member, deploys a drifter at a water discharge location in the Miami Beach area. The drifters measure currents at the water’s surface, where wind and waves can whip around much faster than deeper currents. The drifters’ GPS trackers lets the team calculate the speed and path of currents. (Photo by Tamay Ozgokmen)

The project uses technology and techniques developed for the CARTHE LASER experiment, such as bamboo drift plates and custom-made GPS-equipped biodegradable drifters, to study how trash, sewage, oil, and harmful algae blooms are transported through South Florida waters. From September 2016 to June 2017, the team will coordinate quarterly drift card deployments from eight locations with scientists, students, families, and members of the community across northern Biscayne Bay.

The project team has several goals: use science to advance understanding of the area’s flow patterns, provide students with a hands-on STEAM (STEM + Art) activity, develop a computer model to visualize how debris moves, and make information publicly available to help sustain local shorelines.

Maritime and Science Technology (MAST) Academy students prepare to release drift cards

Maritime and Science Technology (MAST) Academy students prepare to release drift cards and plates that they painted into Bear Cut. (depends on where you got this photo. (Photo by Diana Udel)

Özgökmen explains what they have learned so far, “The flow trajectories indicate a lot of stop-and-go near the shores due to coastal structures such as marinas, followed by episodic flushing of material into the Florida Current. Understanding how long pollution stays in the Bay is very important, and we can quantify this by using our drifters.”

It’s knowledge like this that could inform future decisions. “If we don’t tackle this from the root, it’s not a real solution,” said Vizcaya Museum & Garden schools program manager Diana Pena. “We’re hoping this information gives us enough to reach out to the public and realize how important they are to environmental stewardship.”

Özgökmen expressed that he and the CARTHE team are excited that the tools and experience that they developed with GoMRI support are addressing a serious coastal pollution problem that is important to local community.

Bay Drift drifter tracks Sept 12-20 from CARTHE on Vimeo.

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The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is an 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.

ACER “Tool Talk” Series Tackles Gene Sequencing

DNAThe article explains not only what gene sequencing is and how it works but also how scientists use it to identify and compare bacteria in sediment samples.

Remember back in high school biology when you studied genetics and learned about DNA, nucleotides and gene sequencing? Join us for this week’s Tool Talk as we clear away the cobwebs on gene sequencing and learn how ACER scientists are using this process to study the microbial community composition.

Click to read more…

C-IMAGE Releases One Gulf Expedition Photos and Videos

C-IMAGE Releases One Gulf Expedition Photos and Videos

One Gulf Expedition - C-IMAGE

One Gulf Expedition – Photo Credit C-IMAGE

From 2 Aug-10 Sept, 20 researchers from the C-IMAGE Consortium circumnavigated the Gulf of Mexico studying fish toxicity between 20-180 fathoms (36-330m). The science crew caught 2,442 fish through 69 demersal long-lining stations.

Over 600 photos documenting the expedition’s equipment, crew, and research activities are now available through Flickr. The 40-day cruise resulted in thousands of fish, sediment, water, and plankton samples that will help scientists better understand how mega-spills impact the Gulf’s diverse ecosystem.

C-IMAGE Public Education and Outreach Site

Visit their social media pages….
Facebook1    YouTube1    Flickr1    View our Blog

 

ECOGIG Kicks Off the 2016 Science at the Stadium Season

ECOGIG LOGOECOGIG Kicks Off the 2016 Science at the Stadium Season

Consortium outreach staff recently brought the Ocean Discovery Zone to Penn State’s Fan Fest for the season’s first home game. Visitors explored the Gulf’s deepwater ecosystems and learned about the importance of healthy oceans. View photos or watch a time-lapse video of the event to learn more.

“Science at the Stadium” is an extension of the Ocean Discovery Zone- you may read more about our signature outreach event here.

ECOGIG Education and Outreach Site

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Videos

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GoMRI RFP-V: Oil Spill Transport in a Coupled Wind-Wave Current Environment (Drennan)

The Investigation of Oil Spill Transport in a Coupled Wind-Wave Current Environment Using Simulation and Laboratory Studies project is lead by P.I. William M. Drennan, University of Miami.

Researcher William Drennan

Researcher William Drennan

This project aims at studying the transport of oil droplets in upper oceans subject to actions of Langmuir cells and breaking waves and the transport of oiled sprays in wind over waves. The focus of study is on the effects of wind-wave-current interactions when the wave influences are significant, including hurricane conditions. The feedback mechanisms among wind, waves, and upper ocean currents and turbulence play an essential role in the transport of oil slicks. Despite their importance, due to the complexity of the problem, previous simulation and measurement studies were unable to adequately capture the interaction dynamics. Existing models often reply on simplified approximations, such as flat sea surface treatment, vortex force approximation of Langmuir cells using uniform and constant Stokes drift, ad hoc prescribed sea surface roughness for marine atmospheric boundary layer.

The specific objective of this study are: (i) establish a high-fidelity computational framework for the interactions among wind, waves, and currents in upper oceans; (ii) use the unique capabilities of windwave tanks in the SUSTAIN laboratory to obtain accurate measurement data in air and water with wave phases resolved; (iii) use the laboratory study to provide input for the LES; (iv) establish an advanced simulation tool for the modeling and prediction of oil transport in both water and air under a variety of wind and wave conditions; and (v) assess the effects of wind and waves with various intensities, including hurricane conditions, on the transport of oil.

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

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

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

Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Program Seminar

seminar

Sept 27, Long Beach, MS: Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Program Seminar

 

Titled Building resilient communities: Lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, this seminar will identify traits that made communities more resilient after the oil spill, discuss programs and resources available to communities, and share lessons learned in overcoming disasters and identify ways to strengthen resiliency. Click here to register. Click here for more information. Online streaming is available.

seagrant_logo

Now Available! GoMRI and Oil Spill Science Special Issue of Oceanography

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

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

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is pleased to announce a special issue of Oceanography Magazine: GoMRI: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science

This special issue – a collaborative effort among scientists funded by GoMRI, the GoMRI Research Board, and the GoMRI management team – highlights scientific advances from the program. Twenty papers covering topics that range from how the spill affected marine ecosystems and the fate of oil in the marine environment, to data management, and education and outreach initiatives. Leading this effort were co-editors John Shepherd, Richard Shaw, Debra Benoit, Kenneth Halanych, and Charles Wilson.

To date, more than 3,000 GoMRI-funded researchers representing 278 institutions in 42 states and 17 countries have produced approximately 800 peer-reviewed publications. Continuing productivity of these and other GoMRI-funded scientific teams and individuals will ensure significant contributions to science, engineering, and outreach long after the GoMRI program has ended. The most powerful legacy of GoMRI will be the 2,000 young oil-spill scientists (post-doctoral fellows, graduate students and undergraduates) who are currently working or have worked alongside senior scientists.

Special issues of journals (like this Oceanography special issue), film documentaries, and partnerships with outreach organizations also comprise a significant component of the GoMRI legacy, and not least of which is the program itself, as Research Board Chair Dr. Rita Colwell has articulated, namely that

GoMRI provides an excellent model for industry to play a significant role in supporting independent, open, scientific research to foster discovery and at the same time help solve societal problems, inform decision-making, and address future environmental and public health challenges.”

A PDF copy of the special issue is available for purchase and download here.

Grad Student Max Weber Fishes for Insight into Deep-Pelagic Fish Taxonomy

Max removes tissue from a fish for future genetic analysis aboard the RV Point Sur. (Provided by Max Weber)

Max removes tissue from a fish for future genetic analysis aboard the RV Point Sur. (Provided by Max Weber)

There are hundreds of deep-pelagic fish species in the Gulf of Mexico, but we know very little about their taxonomy, diversity, and population sizes. Max Weber plans to catch fifteen individual specimens of each of the 500 known deep-sea Gulf fish species to help us better understand these organisms and how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may have impacted them and environment.

Max is a marine biology master’s student at Texas A&M University (TAMU) and a GoMRI Scholar with the DEEPEND consortium.

His Journey

Max’s desire to become a scientist started with his childhood obsession with dinosaurs, and he told others that he was going to be a paleontologist. “When I got a little older I realized that, while dinosaurs were still amazing, I preferred animals that were not extinct,” Max laughed. His   interest turned to marine life and he became, and continues to be, an avid fisherman, motivated by his desire to catch new fish species.

He pursued his scientific interests as an undergraduate at Tulane University where he earned degrees in ecology and evolutionary biology. Prior to pursuing graduate school, he gained real-world experience and skills working with organizations such as San Diego Zoo’s Desert Tortoise Conservation Center and the Houston Audubon Society. The Society’s conservation director Richard Gibbons introduced him to TAMU’s Ron Eytan after discovering Max’s interest in fishery science. “Dr. Eytan offered me a position to work with DEEPEND,” Max said. “This presented a unique opportunity to work with amazing fish from the deep-sea environment that are rarely seen.”

His Work

Max presents his research on deep-sea fish genetic diversity at the 2016 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference in Tampa, Florida. (Provided by Max Weber)

Max presents his research on deep-sea fish genetic diversity at the 2016 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference in Tampa, Florida. (Provided by Max Weber)

The remote and extreme physical conditions of the deep-sea environment have inhibited our understanding of deep-sea organisms’ biology and diversity. Scientists have some information about many deep-sea species from a handful of samples, which is rarely enough to understand their taxonomic relationships. Max explained that he is searching for DNA evidence that will help them learn more. “For example, males, females, and juveniles of the family Cetomimidae, usually called whalefishes, are strikingly different and were traditionally classified as three separate families of fish,” Max explained. “DNA evidence finally revealed the true nature of their relationship to one another.”

He and his colleagues collect fish specimens using a Multiple Opening/Closing Net and Environmental Sensing System (MOCNESS), a towed system of multiple automated nets that sample at specific depths. Max identifies the fishes caught, removes some tissue for gene sequencing, and keeps the rest of the fish as a voucher specimen. Back at the lab, he sequences portions of the mitochondrial genome to provide a standard DNA barcode for each sample.

Max explained that this genetic sequencing provides invaluable information and described the project’s first sequences as “a big milestone” and the foundation of his research. His analysis is revealing that a number of species may in fact be cryptic, meaning that they are actually two or three similar species that have been mistakenly classified as the same. He will use the gene sequencing data to investigate patterns of genetic and species diversity and changes in population size over time. This information will help illuminate long-term trends in the Gulf’s deep-sea environment.

His Learning

Anoplogaster cornuta or common fangtooth (Provided by Max Weber).

Anoplogaster cornuta or common fangtooth (Provided by Max Weber).

When beginning his research, Max found himself unexpectedly moved by the contents of the team’s first trawl. “I had seen some of the fish in photos before the cruise, but that was the first time I had encountered any of those rare fish in person,” he said. “As a group, deep-sea fishes are incredible and so different than what you see in other environments.”

He also emphasized the importance of perseverance in scientific research, explaining that lab procedures that have been perfected on common fishes do not always translate well to deep-sea populations. “One thing I am consistently learning is that science may not always go right the first time you try,” he said. “It is critical to have a good attitude and be persistent when your methods require several rounds of adjustment.”

His Future

Echiostoma barbatum (Provided by Max Weber).

Echiostoma barbatum (Provided by Max Weber).

Max is considering the possibility of pursuing a Ph.D. and hopes to ultimately find a job in fisheries. “I could go with industry- or university-based fisheries jobs but am leaning towards something in the sphere of a government agency,” he said. Max will complete his fourth research cruise in August and receive another round of sequence data shortly afterwards. He plans to continue analyzing this new data and complete his thesis by spring 2017.

Praise for Max

Max prepares for a dive. (Provided by Max Weber)

Max prepares for a dive. (Provided by Max Weber)

Dr. Ron Eytan, assistant professor of marine biology at TAMU Galveston, said that Max impressed everyone with the way he immersed himself in DEEPEND’s team, “Max walked into this project from day one without any background in genetics and took to it wholeheartedly with enthusiasm and confidence.” Eytan said it became apparent on Max’s first research cruise that he would push himself to his mental and physical limits to do what the project needed. “He walked in there; he didn’t get seasick; and he commenced to be on his feet for hours and hours taking genetic samples from fish having never done it before,” Eytan said. “He worked like a champ, and he’s done that every cruise since.”

Max’s work with deep sea species and genetic diversity expands and supports research that Eytan and other DEEPEND scientists are doing with fish genetics overall. “We know nothing about [the species Max investigates] whatsoever,” Eytan said. “His work will make a major contribution to our understanding about how genetic diversity works in the deep sea.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Max Weber 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 DEEPEND 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/.

Coastal Louisiana Flora and Fauna Fact-Sheets by CWC

The Coastal Waters Consortium (CWC) has developed several fact sheets on flora and fauna living in the south Louisiana marshes. Click the images below to download copies of these posters to share with your students.  Be sure to visit CWC’s Education & Outreach website for more information.

American Alligator

American Alligator Poster

Needlerush Poster

Needlerush Poster

Roseate Spoonbill Poster

Roseate Spoonbill Poster

Marsh Periwinkle Snail

Marsh Periwinkle Snail Poster

Fiddler Crab Poster

Fiddler Crab Poster

Spartina Poster

Smooth Cordgrass Poster

ACER Grad Student Presents Research at 2016 AES Meeting

Emily Seubert’s presentation at the American Elasmobranch Society

Emily Seubert’s presentation at the American Elasmobranch Society (Photo Credit: ACER)

Emily Seubert’s presentation at the American Elasmobranch Society meeting focused on her hypothesis that the species and functional diversity of apex and mesopredators can impact an ecosystem’s resiliency following a natural disaster.

Emily has also been collecting tissue samples from her catch for stable isotope analysis, which will give insight to the short term and long term food web dynamics of these predators.

Stay tuned for more ACER research updates in the coming months as we head to Biloxi in November for the 2016 Bays and Bayous Symposium!

Learn more about her research here!

Exquisite Mud: A History Book of the Gulf of Mexico (Dispatches from the Gulf)

Dispatches_LogoA team of researchers from the University of South Florida uses a multi-corer to obtain deep sediment cores from the Gulf of Mexico. Back in the lab, they analyze the layers of sediment and build a history of the Gulf, with Deepwater Horizon being the latest chapter.

Featuring oceanographers David Hollander, Isabel Romero, and Patrick Schwing.


The creators of award-winning environmental series Journey to Planet Earth (hosted by Matt Damon) present Dispatches from the Gulf – an upcoming documentary film and educational outreach initiative highlighting exclusive scientific discoveries in health, ecosystems, innovation and recovery in the post-oil spill Gulf of Mexico.

Share your thoughts at the following “Dispatches from the Gulf” Social Media links:

YouTube ChannelFacebookTwitter

 

 

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“Dispatches from the Gulf” is a new Journey to Planet Earth (J2PE) episode showing how scientists confront the challenges of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The documentary also investigates the impact of the event on the ecosystems and communities along the Gulf of Mexico.

J2PE dramatizes new ways of looking at the delicate relationship between people and the world they inhabit. The series is designed to help viewers understand and cope with the most important environmental issues of the 21st century.

Through an interdisciplinary approach, these programs reach beyond the physical sciences and draw connections to politics, economics, sociology, and history. A common thread runs throughout — the necessity to achieve a balance between the needs of people and the needs of the environment. Though photographed on different continents and focusing on different sets of problems, audiences come to see why all of these stories are connected, providing a dramatic mosaic of how the Earth works as an interrelated system.

GoMRI RFP-V: Synergistic Dispersant & Herding Systems using Tubular Clay & Gel Phase (John)

The Design of Synergistic Dispersant and Herding Systems using Tubular Clay Structures and Gel Phase Materials project is lead by P.I. Vijay John, Tulane University.

Dispersants are typically solutions containing one or more surfactants dissolved in a solvent. They work by reducing the interfacial tension between oil and water, thereby reducing the work needed to break oil into sufficiently small droplets that are in the colloidal size range and disperse into the water column. The COREXIT class of dispersants (C9500) was used extensively in the Deepwater Horizon incident, and was considered a success in preventing significant amounts of oil from reaching the shoreline. The ecological consequences of deep sea dispersant addition and subsequent oil dispersion are issues of intensive research efforts.

From a technological perspective, there are significant opportunities to improve dispersant efficiency. C9500 and other commercial dispersants are not effective in the dispersion of weathered oil and high viscosity crudes. Some components of C9500, in particular the di-octyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DOSS) component, may persist for extended periods in the marine environment. C9500 also contains a significant amount of paraffin as solvent, and alternative formulations that decrease the solvent content while maintaining efficiency are desirable. Being a liquid solution, significant amounts of dispersant become wasted if encounter with oil is not rapidly realized.

It is therefore proposed to conduct fundamental and applied research to develop dispersant systems that are synergistic with C9500, but that may alleviate many of the disadvantages of C9500 without the need for entirely different chemical components. This is motivated by the realization that many years of research have gone into the development of C9500 which is currently stockpiled along coastlines of offshore oil exploration and production. The proposed research involves fundamental concepts relevant to the stabilization oil droplets by particles (Pickering emulsions) that are relevant to the formation of oilmineral aggregates. While such particles stabilize oil droplets against coalescence, they do not lead to the generation of small droplets which require the surfactants in dispersants to significantly reduce the oil-water interfacial tension. The innovation in the proposed work lies in the use of natural tubular clays known as halloysites which are available in the large quantities necessary for oil spill remediation. When filled with surfactant, the clays not only stabilize the oil drops against coalescence, but also reduce the interfacial tension through a targeted release of surfactant to the oil-water interface. This is Specific Aim 1 of the proposal. Concomitantly, it is proposed to develop a new gel based dispersant that adheres to the oil and is buoyant, thus encountering oil efficiently, and has the potential to disperse weathered oil. The encapsulation of these gels into the tubular lumen of halloysite and the targeted delivery to oil are the topics of Specific Aim 2.

It is also the hypothesis that the presence of a solid phase (halloysite clay tubes) at the oil-water interface will facilitate anchoring of microbial oil degrading communities to the interface and will enhance biodegradation. Specific aim 3 therefore, is to examine the microbial degradation of oil when the interface is stabilized by halloysite. Our innovation lies in the understanding of microbial biodegradation by following the process at the nanoscale using high resolution cryogenic electron microscopy to characterize biofilm formation and the dynamics of oil droplet degradation. It is also the objective that such studies will provide insights into the formation of marine snow.

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

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

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

Improving How Oil Spill Models Predict Plume Dispersion and Transport

A Large Eddy Simulation of oil droplet (color contours) and gas bubble (white lines) plumes emerging from 1500 m below the surface into a stratified ocean, including 3D Coriolis force and west-to-east current effects. (Simulation performed by Dr. Di Yang, University of Houston)

A Large Eddy Simulation of oil droplet (color contours) and gas bubble (white lines) plumes emerging from 1500 m below the surface into a stratified ocean, including 3D Coriolis force and west-to-east current effects. (Simulation performed by Dr. Di Yang, University of Houston)

Deep ocean oil plumes that formed from the Deepwater Horizon spill and their subsequent rise through the water column were greatly influenced by physical mixing mechanisms such as turbulence, Langmuir circulations, and sub-mesoscale eddies.

These mixing processes are crucial variables needed for existing models to accurately predict a plume’s overall size, shape, and transport direction. Improving our understanding about these processes that affect a spill’s development can better inform response efforts.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative recently awarded Dr. Charles Meneveau a grant to develop an enhanced Large Eddy Simulation (LES) framework for predicting multiscale physical dispersion mechanisms and estimating the effectiveness of remediation strategies. The framework will incorporate relevant length and time scales and address specific needs of oil droplet dispersion ocean modeling.

Different-sized oil droplets rise at varying rates and interact through mixing mechanisms in different ways. These physical interactions affect how parts of the plume move to the surface and create slicks of various shapes and sizes. If applied, chemical dispersants can reduce droplet diameters and alter a plume’s composition, biodegradation susceptibility, transport direction, size, and surface signature.

The team will adapt droplet size distribution models in LES that predict plumes with multiple-size oil droplets by including turbulence and dispersant effects on oil transport. A technique known as the Extended Nonperiodic Domain LES for Scalar transport (ENDLESS) will be developed to simulate oil plume transport in the ocean mixed layer at scales that can capture simultaneously small-scale turbulence and regional-scale transport that affect oil transport predictions. The results will improve how regional models trace oil droplet plume dispersion.

The researchers will use their model to also perform LES computations that analyze the efficacy and efficiency of deep-sea and surface dispersant application and impacts on oil plume evolution under varying application scenarios (location, quantity, type of dispersant) and environmental conditions.

Meneveau explained that this research will be used to develop engineering tools for rapid real-time assessment, helping to improve emergency response and spill monitoring, “Applying state-of-the-art enhanced simulation tools to the field of oil spill modeling will help develop fundamental new insights in a research area with direct applications to the challenges confronting the Gulf of Mexico region and the energy industry.”

The project’s researchers are Charles Meneveau of Johns Hopkins University, Marcelo Chamecki of University of California Los Angeles, and Di Yang of the University of Houston. Their project is Transport and Fate of Oil in the Upper Ocean: Studying and Modeling Multi-Scale Physical Dispersion Mechanisms and Remediation Strategies Using Large Eddy Simulation.

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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/.

What’s At Stake? (Dispatches from the Gulf)

Dispatches_LogoThe Gulf of Mexico’s coastal wetlands and marshes are home to thousands of species of plants and animals – and its beaches help support a hundred billion-dollar tourist industry. It’s also a place whose waters provide 40% of the commercial seafood caught in the lower 48 States.

After 87 days of oil spewing into the Gulf, the beaches and salt marshes were hit hard. Hundreds of thousands of marine animals and birds died. Tourists abandoned the beaches. And watermen were unable to work. The oil spill put at stake not only a way of life, but also the future of one of the most biologically fertile regions in the world.



The creators of award-winning environmental series Journey to Planet Earth (hosted by Matt Damon) present Dispatches from the Gulf – an upcoming documentary film and educational outreach initiative highlighting exclusive scientific discoveries in health, ecosystems, innovation and recovery in the post-oil spill Gulf of Mexico.

Share your thoughts at the following “Dispatches from the Gulf” Social Media links:

YouTube ChannelFacebookTwitter

 

 

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“Dispatches from the Gulf” is a new Journey to Planet Earth (J2PE) episode showing how scientists confront the challenges of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The documentary also investigates the impact of the event on the ecosystems and communities along the Gulf of Mexico.

J2PE dramatizes new ways of looking at the delicate relationship between people and the world they inhabit. The series is designed to help viewers understand and cope with the most important environmental issues of the 21st century.

Through an interdisciplinary approach, these programs reach beyond the physical sciences and draw connections to politics, economics, sociology, and history. A common thread runs throughout — the necessity to achieve a balance between the needs of people and the needs of the environment. Though photographed on different continents and focusing on different sets of problems, audiences come to see why all of these stories are connected, providing a dramatic mosaic of how the Earth works as an interrelated system.

The CSI Effect: Using Forensics to Study Oil Spills (Dispatches from the Gulf)

Dispatches_LogoCoupling the “crime scene” forensic idea with the idiom of geology creates the following premise: “the present is the key to the past, but the past provides a window into the future.”

Researchers are using chemical forensics to predict how the Deepwater Horizon Event will transpire over the decades to come.

Featuring David Hollander (University of South Florida), Steve Murawski (University of South Florida), and Chris Reddy (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution).


The creators of award-winning environmental series Journey to Planet Earth (hosted by Matt Damon) present Dispatches from the Gulf – an upcoming documentary film and educational outreach initiative highlighting exclusive scientific discoveries in health, ecosystems, innovation and recovery in the post-oil spill Gulf of Mexico.

Share your thoughts at the following “Dispatches from the Gulf” Social Media links:

YouTube ChannelFacebookTwitter

 

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Dispatches from the Gulf” is a new Journey to Planet Earth (J2PE) episode showing how scientists confront the challenges of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The documentary also investigates the impact of the event on the ecosystems and communities along the Gulf of Mexico.

J2PE dramatizes new ways of looking at the delicate relationship between people and the world they inhabit. The series is designed to help viewers understand and cope with the most important environmental issues of the 21st century.

Through an interdisciplinary approach, these programs reach beyond the physical sciences and draw connections to politics, economics, sociology, and history. A common thread runs throughout — the necessity to achieve a balance between the needs of people and the needs of the environment. Though photographed on different continents and focusing on different sets of problems, audiences come to see why all of these stories are connected, providing a dramatic mosaic of how the Earth works as an interrelated system.

Invasion of the Lionfish ‪(Dispatches from the Gulf)‬

Dispatches_LogoWill Patterson at Dauphin Island Sea Lab studies reef fish communities and the dramatic effect the non-native lionfish are having on native fish populations.


The creators of award-winning environmental series Journey to Planet Earth (hosted by Matt Damon) present Dispatches from the Gulf – an upcoming documentary film and educational outreach initiative highlighting exclusive scientific discoveries in health, ecosystems, innovation and recovery in the post-oil spill Gulf of Mexico.

Share your thoughts at the following “Dispatches from the Gulf” Social Media links:

YouTube ChannelFacebookTwitter

 

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Dispatches from the Gulf” is a new Journey to Planet Earth (J2PE) episode showing how scientists confront the challenges of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The documentary also investigates the impact of the event on the ecosystems and communities along the Gulf of Mexico.

J2PE dramatizes new ways of looking at the delicate relationship between people and the world they inhabit. The series is designed to help viewers understand and cope with the most important environmental issues of the 21st century.

Through an interdisciplinary approach, these programs reach beyond the physical sciences and draw connections to politics, economics, sociology, and history. A common thread runs throughout — the necessity to achieve a balance between the needs of people and the needs of the environment. Though photographed on different continents and focusing on different sets of problems, audiences come to see why all of these stories are connected, providing a dramatic mosaic of how the Earth works as an interrelated system.

Rapid Response Study Characterizes Behaviors of Accidental Short-Term Oil Blowouts

A researcher conducts surface drifter deployment, July 2013. (Photo credit: CARTHE Consortium)

A researcher conducts surface drifter deployment, July 2013. (Photo credit: CARTHE Consortium)

An interdisciplinary scientific team conducted a rapid response sampling campaign in the immediate aftermath of the 2013 Hercules 265 blowout to determine if sediment and fish were polluted above established baseline levels.

Surface sediments and fish bile analyses suggested that the blowout transported and deposited an increased concentration of Hercules-derived hydrocarbons to the environment. They found that high molecular weight (HMW) polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations in sediment samples decreased as distance from the rig increased, while HMW PAH metabolites in red snapper bile nearly doubled compared to the previous year. The team published their findings in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans: Tracking the Hercules 265 marine gas well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.

 Longline fish sampling on board the R/V Weatherbird II, August 2013. (Photo credit: C-IMAGE Consortium)

Longline fish sampling on board the R/V Weatherbird II, August 2013. (Photo credit: C-IMAGE Consortium)

The Hercules 265 blowout was smaller than Deepwater Horizon but still caused concern regarding environmental hydrocarbons. Few published studies have documented oil and gas production’s impacts on sediments or fishes in the near-field surrounding active platforms. A large collaborative team of oil spill scientists from multiple institutions tracked the plume and surface water circulation for 20 days using surface drifters to predict potential impact areas and began collecting samples 36 days post-blowout. They compared their data with regional data collected prior to and after the Hercules 265 blowout and collected elsewhere in the northern Gulf of Mexico in 2013.

Sediment and fish samples taken southeast of the Hercules 265 site exhibited elevated levels of HMW PAHs. The atmospheric plume traveled predominantly east, while surface ocean water above the site traveled southeast. The researchers hypothesize that HMW PAHs reached the surface waters at the Hercules 265 site, where a mesoscale anticyclonic eddy transported them southeast and deposited them to the seafloor. They emphasized the need for continued routine sampling of waters, sediments, invertebrates, and fish for oil contamination to establish baseline levels of contaminants and to better understand the cumulative effects of chronic oil releases and events such as Deepwater Horizon and Hercules 265.

 Collection of sediment cores using a multicore on board the R/V Weatherbird II, August 2013. (Photo credit: C-IMAGE Consortium)

Collection of sediment cores using a multicore on board the R/V Weatherbird II, August 2013. (Photo credit: C-IMAGE Consortium)

Lead author Isabel Romero stated, “Due to the short duration of the Hercules event, the levels of contaminants were found to be below established concern concentrations for the environment.” She noted that this research highlights the need for an established scientific network to execute rapid sampling responses and interdisciplinary sampling techniques to track and detect the fate and signature of accidental blowouts.

The study’s authors are Isabel C. Romero, Tamay Ozgokmen, Susan Snyder, Patrick Schwing, Bryan J. O’Malley, Francisco J. Beron-Vera, Maria J. Olascoaga, Ping Zhu, Edward Ryan, Shuyi S. Chen, Dana L. Wetzel, David Hollander, and Steven A. Murawski.

 

Data summarized in this paper from C-IMAGE and CARTHE consortia are available online at https://data.gulfresearchinitiative.org/data/R1.x135.119:0011 and https://data.gulfresearchinitiative.org/data/R1.x134.073:0012/.

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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) and the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment II (CARTHE II). Other funding sources included the National Marine Fisheries Service (NA11NMF4720151).

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/.

Dispatches From the Gulf – 50 Short Videos

Dispatches From the Gulf“Dispatches from the Gulf” is a multi-media initiative that investigates the environmental health of the Gulf of Mexico six years after the Deepwater Horizon blowout on April 20, 2010. That’s when the world’s ninth largest body of water became a place where thousands of communities and millions of citizens were put in jeopardy by a single incident – the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. Today, a global team of scientists from a consortia of academic institutions is working together to protect and restore one of our planet’s most valuable natural resources. Their ultimate goal is to learn how to cope with the challenges of future oil spills.

The initiative consists of a one-hour documentary (narrated by Matt Damon), a series of short videos, podcasts, and additional educational resources related to oceanographic scientists, researchers, and institutions.

Click for an Educators Guide for “Dispatches from the Gulf” Short Videos and video descriptions with links.

These 50 short videos are available on the Dispatches from the Gulf YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/c/Dispatchesfromthegulfofmexico).

Courtesy of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and Screenscope.”

Watermen of the Gulf ‪(Dispatches from the Gulf)‬

Dispatches_LogoFisherfolk share their feelings about working and living along the Gulf of Mexico.


The creators of award-winning environmental series Journey to Planet Earth (hosted by Matt Damon) present Dispatches from the Gulf – an upcoming documentary film and educational outreach initiative highlighting exclusive scientific discoveries in health, ecosystems, innovation and recovery in the post-oil spill Gulf of Mexico.

Share your thoughts at the following “Dispatches from the Gulf” Social Media links:

YouTube ChannelFacebookTwitter

 

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Dispatches from the Gulf” is a new Journey to Planet Earth (J2PE) episode showing how scientists confront the challenges of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The documentary also investigates the impact of the event on the ecosystems and communities along the Gulf of Mexico.

J2PE dramatizes new ways of looking at the delicate relationship between people and the world they inhabit. The series is designed to help viewers understand and cope with the most important environmental issues of the 21st century.

Through an interdisciplinary approach, these programs reach beyond the physical sciences and draw connections to politics, economics, sociology, and history. A common thread runs throughout — the necessity to achieve a balance between the needs of people and the needs of the environment. Though photographed on different continents and focusing on different sets of problems, audiences come to see why all of these stories are connected, providing a dramatic mosaic of how the Earth works as an interrelated system.

DEEPEND Blog Introduces Kids to Bioacoustics

24 hr Vertical Migration Pattern of the Deep Scattering Layer in N. Gulf of Mexico

24 hr Vertical Migration Pattern of the Deep Scattering Layer in N. Gulf of Mexico

Another one of the key components to the DEEPEND research is the collection of sound data! It’s called bio-acoustics and it’s another form of taking data that turns sounds into pictures for us to see! Ben, from Florida International University, was on the last cruise working the acoustics and was able to use the data to determine how many organisms were in the water. He is also able to tell us which different organisms were out in the water when he took his data. In order to collect his data, he sends different sound frequencies and pulse lengths through the water to identify fish and crustaceans. He can also track migration patterns of different organisms and is hoping to determine why certain patterns exist.

In the early morning, before the sun has started to rise, a mass migration of organisms swims from the epipelagic layer (sunlight zone) down to the mesopelagic layer (twilight zone). If you need a reminder on the layers of the ocean, you can view it here; http://www.outreach.deependconsortium.org/index.php/kids-blog/entry/diving-into-the-deep

Visit DEEPEND’s Education/Outreach Program

Kids Blog       Adult Blog

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GoMRI RFP-V: Biodegradation & ecosystem recovery in coastal marine sediments (Huettel)


Markus Huettel gives an overview of the project at the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference January 2016

The A systems approach to improve predictions of biodegradation and ecosystem recovery in coastal marine sediments impacted by oil spill project is lead by P.I. Markus Huettel, Florida State University.

After coastal oil spills, petroleum hydrocarbons accumulate in submerged nearshore sediments and on beaches, poisoning these ecosystems and creating health risks for coastal organisms and humans. Erosion and deposition cycles lead to burial of weathered crude oil in submerged shelf beds, intertidal sediments, and dry beach sands. Prediction of the effects and fate of these buried petroleum hydrocarbons remains hampered by our limited understanding of the controls of the biodegradation and functioning of sedimentary microbial communities that break down petroleum hydrocarbons. Transport of oxygen and nutrients to the buried oil is expected to control the rates of hydrocarbon biodegradation. While the flow of air through dry beach sands can rapidly transport oxygen to buried oil, it cannot carry nutrients that are limiting the degradation of the oil. Transport via pore water flows in submerged sand beds is slower than the gas transport in dry sand, but water can transport dissolved nutrients to buried hydrocarbons. It is therefore hypothesized that microbial oil degradation in dry, temporally wet and water-saturated sediments differ. A quantitative understanding of the mechanisms controlling these differences is a central prerequisite for the modeling of oil decomposition in these coastal ecosystems. The main goals of this project therefore are to link microbial degradation of buried oil and associated transport processes, and to integrate these data in a model that allows predictions of pathways and rates of oil degradation, and thus, forecasting recovery pathways in future oil spills. Specific objectives are to:

1. Determine microbial community structure and succession associated with petroleum hydrocarbons buried in sub-, inter- and supratidal coastal sands using in-situ measurements and controlled laboratory mesocosm incubations that simulate in-situ conditions.
2. Quantitatively link supply rates of oxygen and nutrients to microbial oil degradation rates and community structure in these sands.
3. Develop a model using a systems approach that incorporates microbiological, genomics, biogeochemical and transport data to predict decomposition rates of buried oil in sub, inter- and supratidal beach sands.
4. Organize a two-day workshop for disseminating our models and associated bioinformatics tools for multi-omics data analysis and integration to the GoMRI research community.

This project that contributes to GoMRI RFP V research theme (2) couples cutting-edge microbiological and geochemical approaches in the field with targeted laboratory experiments, genomic analyses and predictive mathematical modeling. In the experiments, biodegradation rates of specific hydrocarbon compounds are linked to the metabolic potential of microbial groups using a combination of metagenomic and metatranscriptomic sequencing and culture-based physiological and genetic manipulations. A distinguishing aspect of this research is that it will integrate taxonomic, genetic and functional data from complex, multivariate experiments into advanced dynamic models that will represent responses of whole microbial communities and allow predictions of their activities under different levels of oxygen and nutrients. The broader impact of this research is related to the potential environmental and health risks associated with petroleum hydrocarbons still persisting in the coastal environment. Covered by anoxic sediment, oil may persist in largely un-weathered form and thus may contain relatively large concentrations of harmful oil components (PAHs) that can be released during storm events. The project will produce tools (e.g., models and microbial indicators of oil degradation) for environmental managers and decision makers that can help planning responses to future oil spills.

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

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

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

Grad Student Sun Uses Sun Glint to Assess Oil Spills

 Shaojie presents his research on sun glint requirements for oil film detection at the 2016 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Conference in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Chuanmin Hu)

Shaojie presents his research on sun glint requirements for oil film detection at the 2016 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Conference in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Chuanmin Hu)

Those who have ever photographed the ocean on a sunny day have likely noticed how the reflected sunlight made the water gleam, often distorting the image. Shaojie Sun has quantified this phenomenon, called “sun glint,” to help address a longstanding limitation in scientists’ ability to assess oil seeps and spills using satellite imagery.

Shaojie is a marine science Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida (USF) and a GoMRI Scholar with the C-IMAGE consortium. He describes his journey from coastal China to coastal Florida to aid marine conservation efforts.

His Path

Shaojie (far right) sets off for a three-day research cruise in the Florida Keys with colleagues from the University of Massachusetts – Boston and Florida International University, March 2016. (Photo by Chuanmin Hu)

Shaojie (far right) sets off for a three-day research cruise in the Florida Keys with colleagues from the University of Massachusetts – Boston and Florida International University, March 2016. (Photo by Chuanmin Hu)

The son of a fisherman, Shaojie grew up only a ten-minute walk from the seashore. His childhood memories of sailors’ stories and eating fresh seafood inspired him to dedicate his life to protecting the sea for the creatures who live there and the people who earn their livings from it.

Shaojie completed an undergraduate degree in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) at Shandong University of Science and Technology in Qingdao, China, in 2010. A highlight of his undergraduate work was his internship at the Chinese State Oceanic Administration’s First Institute of Oceanography. There, he used the programming language he learned in college to process remote sensing images of coastline islands. He explained, “The details of the high-resolution remote sensing imagery attracted me, and I knew what I had learned could help monitor and improve our marine environment.”

Shaojie’s master’s research at Nanjing University used remote sensing techniques to monitor water quality following a cyanobacteria bloom in China’s Taihu Lake, which impacted over five million people’s drinking water and generated increased attention to water pollution in freshwater and marine environments. While completing this study, the large 2011 oil spill in China’s largest inland sea, Bohai – which consisted of three separate leak events over a two-month period – inspired him to pursue oil spill research. “Considering the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, I began to think deeply about what we can do, as the marine pollution [events] continued one after another and would not stop in the near future,” he said.

Shaojie completed his master’s degree in GIS and cartography in 2013, feeling strongly that remote sensing would play an important role in combating future marine pollution such as oil spills. He contacted USF’s Dr. Chuanmin Hu, whose papers on optical remote sensing applications he had often cited, about joining his remote oil spill detection research with C-IMAGE as a Ph.D. student and entered the project later that year.

His Work

Oil spill footprint map for the Ixtoc I and Deepwater Horizon oil spills. The Ixtoc I oil spill footprint was generated from satellite observations by Shaojie, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill footprint was based on NOAA data. (Photo provided by Shaojie Sun)

Oil spill footprint map for the Ixtoc I and Deepwater Horizon oil spills. The Ixtoc I oil spill footprint was generated from satellite observations by Shaojie, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill footprint was based on NOAA data. (Photo provided by Shaojie Sun)

Remote sensing tools can be used to detect the oil’s presence in water but historically struggle to quantify its volume. Previous studies demonstrated that optical imagery could use sun glint effectively to detect oil, yet scientists had not quantified the exact sun glint threshold for the technology to work consistently, and very thin slicks could only be observed at optimal view angles and wind conditions. However, optical remote sensing is a technique that utilizes reflected solar radiation to find surface oil and employs spectral responses to estimate the amount present. “Remote sensing is now serving and will serve as a more and more important part in monitoring and predicting environmental disasters in marine environments.” Shaojie explained, “Volume quantification has been a real challenge to the remote sensing community for decades, but optical remote sensing has shown promising results.”

Shaojie compared multi-sensor data to calculate the sun glint requirement for finding natural oil slicks using the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). He applied the findings using archived Coastal Zone Color Scanner (CZCS) and Landsat/Multispectral Scanner (MSS) data to document the 1979 Ixtoc I oil spill’s footprint and trajectory. “To my knowledge, this is the first time that such information was objectively derived from synoptic measurements enabled by optical remote sensing. The results were used to plan the sediment core sampling locations during a C-IMAGE cruise survey of the Ixtoc I site,” said Shaojie.

His Learning

Shaojie (right 2nd) and other USF College of Marine Science students share their research about Ocean Color with the public at the St. Petersburg Science Festival. (Photo by Chuanmin Hu)

Shaojie (right 2nd) and other USF College of Marine Science students share their research about Ocean Color with the public at the St. Petersburg Science Festival. (Photo by Chuanmin Hu)

“Since remote sensing is interdisciplinary and has connections to most of the oceanographic disciplines, I have a lot of collaborations with researchers in USF’s College of Marine Science and the C-IMAGE community,” Shaojie said. He explained that physical modelers compare their modelling results with the Ixtoc I oil spill coverage map he generated. In turn, he uses their data to validate results from his work. Shaojie also benefited from C-IMAGE researcher Wes Tunnell’s western Gulf field missions during and after the Ixtoc spill, as data from that time period is limited. “The accordance of satellite observations with field records makes the published satellite results more persuasive,” said Shaojie, adding that he gains many other intangible advantages from sharing ideas with fellow researchers.

His Future

Shaojie plans to complete his comprehensive exam this fall and earn his Ph.D. by summer 2018. His long-term plan is to seek a research position in a university or a research institute. “As offshore oil exploration has increased and continues to increase, oil spills are inevitable,” he said. “I hope I will develop some cutting-edge technology for better detection and quantification and for helping decision makers on mitigation efforts and policy implementation.”

Praise for Shaojie

Shaojie’s advisor Chuanmin Hu said Shaojie first came to his attention when he co-authored a manuscript submitted to the journal Applied Optics. Hu, an associate editor, found Shaojie’s optical experiments on particle size characterization impressive. “I was right,” said Hu. “Since his enrollment in fall 2013, Shaojie’s performance has been outstanding in both classwork and oil spill research.” Hu explained that Shaojie has already fulfilled all course requirements, and is now fully dedicated to his dissertation on remote sensing of ocean oil spills, which Hu called an important and challenging research topic.

Hu discussed Shaojie’s remarkable progress on several publications, “One of these filled the knowledge gap about the footprint and trajectory of the 1979 Ixtoc oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and another one made cutting-edge progress to define the threshold of remote detection of thin oil films.” He noted proudly that NASA recently awarded Shaojie a fellowship to continue his research on the challenge of quantifying oil volume via optical remote sensing, a difficult problem that must be solved to help direct mitigation efforts. “Shaojie is smart and hard working,” said Hu. “He is always friendly to others, willing to help, and easy to work with in a team. I am very proud of him.”

The GoMRI community embraces bright and dedicated students like Shaojie Sun 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 C-IMAGE 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/.