Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year One Block Grant - The Northern Gulf Institute

Project Overview

NIUST Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Multi-Task Research Proposal

Principal Investigator
University of Mississippi
National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology
Member Institutions
University of Georgia, University of Mississippi, University of South Alabama, University of Southern Mississippi


This proposal consists of four Deepwater Horizon oil spill related tasks. The DwH oil spill is a major oceanographic and environmental event that poses perhaps the greatest environmental threat the United States has ever encountered.

It is imperative that we understand the impacts of the spill as close to real time as possible so variance due to other factors can be constrained.

  • Task No.1. We propose to examine the impacts of oil and dissolved gas derived from the DwH spill on microbially mediated oxygen consumption in the waters of the Northern Gulf of Mexico. The proposed research is necessary to understand how microbial communities respond to the spill and to identify the factors regulating microbial breakdown of spill-derived oil and gas. We will quantify rates of methane oxidation and oxygen consumption (respiration) in three types of water samples collected during research cruises in June and August/Sept: 1)

  • Task No.2. The Station Service Device (SSD) is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) custom designed to install and service instruments at the Hydrates Observatory at MCl18. This project involves modifying the SSD to become a versatile platform for detecting, monitoring and mapping oil plumes in the marine environment. The SSD will be modified to work to full spill depths and to easily support additional instruments that will make the SSD a multi-function sampling platform capable of reaching the depths needed to map and monitor subsurface oil plumes.

          Task No.3. To improve understanding of the processes governing the fate of oil droplets in the deep plumes, including the advection and mixing of materials (oil, gas, and presumably gas hydrate crystals), we will map the size and three-dimensional distribution of oil droplets and hydrates throughout the water column using a quantitative camera system augmented by sensors for methane, CDOM and P AH levels. Also, we will collect and study sediment samples near the wellhead and surrounding sites such as MCl18.

  • Task No.4. In the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), seagrass beds are vital coastal nursery grounds for fish and invertebrate early life stages, and serve as habitat for threatened or endangered species. In recent decades, the decline of this habitat has had vast socioeconomic impacts on fisheries and recreation, and the loss of its buffering function impacts the coastal environment and human health. Now faced with an unprecedented anthropogenic disaster, the ability of seagrass beds to survive and perform their ecological functions is in question. We propose to characterize the impact of oil spill contamination on the physiological responses and overall health of seagrass systems in the northern GOM, integrating a combination of molecular biomarker, genetic and chemical biomarker analyses. We will identify the current seagrass physiological status and level ofPAH contaminants at sites in the northern GOM, and assess initial responses to oil contamination.

This research was made possible by a grant from The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.