Grant to Study Fate of Gulf Spill

Friday, September 29, 2017 @ 03:09 PM gHale

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill seems to be spawning a new industry which entails studying how the economy and the ecology ended up affected as a result of the disaster.

One new $2.8 million grant ended up awarded to Florida State University (FSU) to expand understanding of how the disaster affected the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico.

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The grant is from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to study the role that microbes play in determining the fate of oil and its impact on marine ecosystems. Eric Chassignet, director of FSU’s Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Studies (COAPS), will lead the team.

“The Consortium for Simulation of Oil-Microbial Interactions in the Ocean is an interdisciplinary group consisting of experts in physical oceanography, ecology, biology, chemistry and marine sediments,” Chassignet said. “Our work will investigate how microbes influence the biodegradation and accumulation of petroleum in the water column and marine sediments of the deep ocean and shelf.”

In April 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people and caused more than 4 million barrels of oil to shoot out of the well one mile below the surface of the ocean.

When the 2010 spill occurred, scientists and first responders scrambled to predict where the released oil would go and how it would affect the circulation, ecology and biogeochemistry of the Gulf.

Florida State University has been studying the area to understand the Gulf of Mexico circulation, ecology, and biogeochemistry, and how the spill affected marine life.

The team of research institutions includes HR Wallingford, Texas A&M University, the University of Delaware, the University of Maryland and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Scientists from the six institutions will use recent model developments and results from field- and laboratory-based microbial and sediment studies to develop simulations to investigate the impacts of potential future oil spills under different scenarios and conditions (temperatures, oxygen levels, particulate matters and transport).

“It is critical to have the ability to predict the eventual fate of oil and its impact on ecosystems because toxic oil constituents pose unknown threats to organisms, many of which are harvested in the Gulf for human consumption. There’s also a greater likelihood of large spills in the future due to oil and gas extraction activities taking place over the shelf and increasingly in deep water,” Chassignet said.

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