FSU researchers receive $2.8M to study fate of BP Oil spill

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Eric Chassignet, director of FSU’s Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Studies

A team of research institutions led by Florida State University has been awarded a $2.8 million grant to expand our understanding of how the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill affected the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico.

Eric Chassignet, director of FSU’s Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Studies (COAPS), will lead the team of scientists who will use the grant 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.

“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.”

When the 2010 spill occurred, an estimated 200 million gallons of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico from a damaged well below the Deepwater Horizon platform. 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 at the forefront of this work, diligently 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.

In addition to Chassignet, several other FSU researchers will participate in the study including Steve Morey, COAPS senior scientist, who will serve as the scientific director of the project; Assistant Professors of Oceanography Olivia Mason and Mike Stukel; Associate Research Scientist Dmitry Dukhovskoy; and Tracy Ippolito, the consortium’s program and outreach coordinator.