BP Oil Spill Legacy: Reducing Ocean Mysteries

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20 April 2010 was a bad day in the Gulf of Mexico as a blowout began at the BP Deepwater Horizon undersea oil well on the BP-operated Macondo Prospect.

It was the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry and it claimed eleven lives. Oil gushed from the well for 87 days, until it was capped almost three months later, on 15 July 2010. That slowed the flow, but it wasn’t until 19 September that the flow stopped, after dumping around 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

A year after the initial blowout, BP announced it would provide $500million in research grant funding, to be distributed over the next 10 years.

Positive Legacy From A Disaster

One of the universities to receive funds was Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO), and in the first year, it is funding 27 projects. One of FIO project grants goes to Jose Lopez, Ph.D., an associate professor at NSU’s Oceanographic Center. Lopez has a BP block grant to measure the impact of the oil spill on marine sponge and symbiotic microbial communities.

In an Op-Ed, Lopez talks about the good that will come out of this funding. He says “scientists throughout Florida are unlocking the mysteries of the deep. Advancing oceanographic research will ultimately be the positive legacy of the spill among the negative ones.”

All told, 27 projects were chosen. These projects ranged from measuring the chemical composition and breakdown of oil hydrocarbons and dispersants, to the behavior of the fish, plankton, and various deepwater invertebrates possibly exposed to oil.

The Research Projects

A Coordinated Modeling Approach in Support of Oil Spill Tracking

R. Weisberg (USF), V. Kourafalou (U. Miami), E. Chassignet (FSU)

Acute Effects of Oil on Northern Gulf of Mexico Reefs and Reef Communities

W. Paterson (UWF), C. Jagoe (FAMU)

Assessing Concentration and Molecular and Isotopic Composition of Deep-Sea Submerged Oils

D. Hollander (USF)

Assessing Impacts of Oil Exposure to Deep Sea Ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico

M. Heithaus (FIU), M. Shivji (NSU), J. Gelsleichter (UNF)

Assessing the Impact of Oil Spill on Coastal Waters of FL Panhandle – Water, Sediment and Fish

C. Jagoe (FAMU), R. Snyder (UWF), J. Cherrier (FAMU)

Assessing the Impact of the Oil Spill on Sediments and Benthic Communities

D. Hollander (USF), P. T. Schwing (USF)

Assessment of Deepwater Fish Assemblages Continental Slope Waters Gulf of Mexico

D. Grubbs (FSU), J. Gelsleichter (UNF)

Baseline and Oil Spill Impacted Marine Sponge Microbial Communities and Gene Expression Analysis with Metagenomics

J. Lopez (NSU), R. Vega-Thurber (FIU), P. McCarthy (FAU/HBOI), P. Blackwelder (U. Miami), Marie Cuvelier (NSU)

Biodegradation of the Oil Spill in FL Marsh Ecosystems and Exploration of Novel Passive Remediation Strategies

A. Zimmerman (UF), B. Silliman (UF)

Coast Watch – Remote sensing and verification sampling of oil spill impact on Florida Coast

I. McDonald (FSU), R. Snyder (UWF)

Baseline For Impact Assessment of Zooplankton and Imaging Oil Droplet Detection On The West Florida Shelf

K. Daly (USF)

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill- Assessing Impacts on a Critical Habitat, Oyster Reefs and Associated Species

E. Proffitt (FAU), L. Coen, S. Geiger (FWC), D. Kimbro (FSU), H. Nance (FAU/HBOI), J. Weinstein (The Citadel)

Early Warning 4-D Remote Sensing System to Assess Synoptic Threats to Coastal Ecosystems

F. Muller-Karger (USF), D. Goldgof (USF), C. Hu (USF), L. Shay (U. Miami), C. Bostater (FIT), M. Roffer (ROFFS/FIT), D. Fries (Bioplex Tech, LLC), E. Johns (NOAA – AOML), N. Melo (U. Miami), S. Lohrenz (U. Southern Mississippi)

Edge et al Final Report FIO 2013

Sara Edge (FAU), Joshua Voss, Kate Semon, Rob Ruzicka, Tonya Shearer

Effect of BP Oil Spill on Diatos, Calcareous Nannoplankton and Related Protists

S. W. Wise, Jr. (FSU), S. Foley (FSU), J. Putland (FSU), A. Shumnyk (FSU), C. Sjunneskog (FSU), A. Presad (FSU), J. Nienow (Valdosta State), M.J. Sullivan

Effects of a Major Oil Spill on Nektonic Assemblages of Salt Marshes and Adjacent Sav Habitats

R. Aronson (FIT)

Effects of Oil Spill on Epipelagic and Large Coastal Sharks and Teleosts

R. Hueter (Mote Marine Lab)

Impact of Crude Oil and the Dispersant Corexit on 3 Key GOM Invertebrate Species

S. Laramore (FAU/HBOI)

Impacts from MC252 Oil in Ecologically and Commercially Important Plankton of the GOM

D. Rumbold (FGCU)

Impacts of 2010 Oil Spill on Estuarine Bottlenose Dolphin Populations in the West FL Panhandle

G. Worthy (UCF), R. Wells (Mote Marine Lab), S. Martin (FWRI/FWC)

Integrative Biodiversity Assessment of Coral-Sponge Communities

G. Paulay (UF)

Resolving Chemical Properties and Extent of Crude Oil Dispersant Distribution in the Oil Spill

R. Zika (U. Miami), D. Reimer (U. Miami)

Toxicity of Deepwater Horizon Oil and Dispersants on Florida’s Reef Biota

P. Hallock-Muller (USF), J. Torres (USF)

Tracing the Intrusion of the GOM-2010 Oil Spill on Food Webs with Natural Abundance Radiocarbon and Stable Isotopes

J. Cherrier (FAMU), J. Chanton (FSU)

Trophic Dynamics and Ecosystem Changes within the SE FL Coastal Pelagic Fish Community

D. Kerstetter (NSU), J. Gelsleichter (UNF)

Uncoupling the Autotrophy and Heterotrophy- Effects of Oil Spill on Microbial Food Webs

W. Jeffrey (UWF), A. Chauhan (FAMU), J. Cherrier (FAMU)

Lopez has a collaborative effort with Nova Southeastern University researchers, Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University. Their project studies sponge species near the spill site to discover and examine clues about how marine invertebrates and microbes cope with chemical pollutants.

In an attempt to better understand the biology of these marine organisms, their study will apply sophisticated DNA sequencing and microbial analyses. They hope to reveal the hidden biology of marine sponges and develop them as potential sentinels (bio-indicators) to detect changes in their (and our) environment.

Lopez wrote:

A better understanding of marine processes and resilience to events like oil spills will be gained through unbiased scientific research. Other benefits will be developing safer ways to drill and develop natural resources, new protocols to study and protect the biological diversity of marine life living near the top and bottom of the ocean, and a greater realization for what we still do not know about the vast oceans. Moreover, there may be a greater appreciation for the bountiful products, nutrition and employment that the oceans provide society in general. All of these are positive results from the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.

See the full Op-Ed at Newswise: Reducing Ocean Mysteries will be the Legacy of the BP Oil Spill

Alan Gray is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of NewsBlaze Daily News and other online newspapers. He prefers to edit, rather than write, but sometimes an issue rears it’s head and makes him start pounding the keyboard. Alan has a fascination with making video and video editing, so watch out if he points his Canon 7d in your direction.