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USF Researchers Awarded $5 Million Grant to Continue Studying 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

USF College of Marine Science researchers will continue studies on how the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has impacted the environment and how future environmental disasters might be better mitigated

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Sept. 21, 2017) - USF College of Marine Science researchers have been awarded more than $5 million from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to continue studies on how the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has impacted the environment and how future environmental disasters might be better mitigated.

The new grant brings the total GoMRI award to the USF College of Marine Science to over $36 million to investigate the chemical evolution and degradation of oil in ocean and seafloor environments, and the ultimate effect of the massive spills in the Gulf of Mexico. This funding created an international consortium of researchers to form the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE) that will continue working in partnership in the most recent project.

USF College of Marine researchers have traveled the length and breadth of the Gulf of Mexico to collect and test contamination levels in water, fish and mud samples.

The April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon offshore rig explosion caused one of the nation’s largest and most costly environmental disasters. Since then, C-IMAGE and other GoMRI centers have conducted continuous research on the Gulf of Mexico. The new grant will specifically focus on synthesizing research to date to inform and improve response and recovery strategies for future spills.

“This new grant gives us the opportunity to synthesize all the information we and others have gathered over the last seven years to create meaningful and informative products,” said USF Professor Steven Murawski, a biological oceanographer who serves as director of the C-IMAGE consortium. “There has never been this kind of sampling effort after any oil environmental disaster in history, and this dataset will not only tell us about oil exposure, but also about how ecosystems recover, and how resilient they are both to natural and man-made disturbances.”

Over the last six years, C-IMAGE researchers have circumnavigated the Gulf of Mexico with scientific colleagues from seven countries, including Mexico and Cuba. During more than 150 days at sea since 2011, scientists collected water, fish, and mud samples to determine the extent and impacts of oil exposure on the fragile Gulf ecosystem. Their work aims to develop a Gulf-wide baseline of biota and ecosystem health that could help determine the extent of damages in future spills.

Research in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout has uncovered new concepts that are critical when looking ahead to the next spill. The scientists found a significant amount of oil on the sea floor resulting from an oiled marine “snow” event – microscopic particles of oil and dispersants suspended in the Gulf water eventually sank and settled into the sediments where they continue to have an impact on the ecosystem.

USF Professor Steve Murawski, director of the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE), unhooks a red snapper.  The center's scientists will continue their work to better understand impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE) 

Marine scientists now are working alongside engineers to mimic deep sea conditions to investigate the consequences of extreme pressures and temperatures on dispersant application. Additionally, biologists are exposing captive fish to oil in different ways to monitor any physical impacts on them and their offspring.

This new grant allows C-IMAGE to integrate these groundbreaking projects to provide significant improvements to a large range of oil spill response scenarios. One product from the research is a two-book series summarizing research findings which is scheduled for publication in 2018.

Since the Deepwater Horizon spill, USF has become a leading global research hub in examining oil spill effects using advanced sampling techniques and ships, including the research vessel the R/V Weatherbird II, managed by the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO).

Joining USF in the project are: FIO, Eckerd College, Mote Marine Laboratory, Florida State University, Georgia Tech, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Hamburg University of Technology (Germany), Harte Research Institute (Texas), Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University, University of West Florida, University of Florida, University of Calgary (Canada), University of Miami, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Mexico City), University of Western Australia, and Wageningen University (the Netherlands).

A crew of scientists from USF and the University of Havana next to the R/V Weatherbird II, a research vessel equipped with advanced laboratories, oceanographic devices and sensor technology.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative was established through a $500 million grant from BP to provide for scientifically independent investigations of the effect of oil spills on the environment and public health. More information can be found at: www.marine.usf.edu/c-image and http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.


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