Science in the Spotlight

USF researchers remain in demand as independent voices on the oil spill impact.

USF's College of Marine Science was in the international spotlight during much of the spill and its scientists continue to be sought as leading voices on scientific challenges ahead. Pictured above is Chemical Oceanographer David Hollander.


By Vickie Chachere

USF News


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (April 19, 2011) - At the height of the spill, the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science was the scene of frenzied activity.


News helicopters hovered overhead as the R/V Weatherbird II and R/V Bellows set off on research missions; national television news programs broadcast live from the seawall; and international talk shows clamored for interviews with scientists and then-Dean William Hogarth, now director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography.


Today, the small, quiet college that sits on a picturesque peninsula just south of downtown St. Petersburg had regained its tranquil atmosphere even though life never quite returned to pre-spill normal. The research vessels R/V Weatherbird II and R/V Bellows have continued to work at break-neck speed, carrying out dozens of cruises on spill research as scientists all across Florida conduct spill research projects.

But the college is forever changed. Applications to its graduate programs surged by about one-third this year, with students from across the United States and internationally vying to get into its now-storied labs.

The focus, however, has stayed on the science. Six USF researchers are working on projects funded through money provided to FIO through BP and others have enlisted their labs in spill-related projects as the science begins to unfold. Their work has been presented at some of the nation’s most prestigious scientific organizations, such as the American Geophysical Union and the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography.

On the eve of the April 20 anniversary, Chemical Oceanographer David Hollander will join a prestigious panel at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History to take a look back at the health of the Gulf. You can watch a live 6:30 p.m. webcast of the Smithsonian’s Changing Tides series here.

Meanwhile, Biological Oceanographer Steve Murawski – who came to USF in January after serving as the director of scientific programs and chief science advisor for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service during the spill - will be in the Netherlands at an international conference on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Oil on the Waves will feature Murawski’s presentation on the impact of the spill, the federal government’s response and the lessons which were learned.

Over the last week, USF scientists have been interviewed for spill anniversary stories in such notable publications as the Wall Street Journal and Nature News. In Sunday’s St. Petersburg Times Perspective, Hogarth and Murwaski looked back at lessons learned – and not learned - from the spill. 

National Geographic News has produced two stories looking at the work of USF Geologist Ping Wang on Panhandle area beaches: Read their anniversary piece here and see a photo timeline featuring a beach studied by the USF Coastal Geology lab here.

ABC Action News also has produced a series of stories looking at USF research and the spill which can be seen here.

And in June, the Emmy-award winning PBS series Changing Seas will feature an inside-look at the effort at the USF College of Marine Science to gauge the spill’s impact. The documentary, “After the Spill” airs at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 28, but a sneak preview of images from the crew’s research voyage aboard the R/V Weatherbird II can be found here.

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.