Rationale: The oil and other contaminants from the Deepwater Horizon spill have a fundamental impact on the less-visible portions of the delicate chemical and biological ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico. Biological and chemical impacts are critical elements that need to be addressed at the micro level. These impacts require sampling of the ocean to be converted into an ecosystem health information and knowledge base.
Challenge: To minimize impacts and potentially mitigate environmental and human health risks, the time-series detection, spatial measurement and source tracking of oil spill and related chemicals in the Gulf is needed. Traditional assessment protocols for the identification and quantification of chemicals, microbes and particles rely upon logistically separated field sampling and time-consuming, laboratory-based sample preparation and analysis. The wide spatial-temporal monitoring of toxins and contaminants throughout dynamic Gulf waters requires new technological innovations capable of both time-series sampling and accurate sequestering of material fluxes and transformations across diverse spatial scales.
The development and validation of automated platforms to capture and identify oil spill related materials are critical in assessing this unprecedented event. Furthermore, due to the legal implications of the oil release, the analysis should be done with court accepted analytical procedures (e.g. GCMS) and the data collected from the assessment process handled using strict chain-of-custody procedures to ensure quality control and to prevent tampering. Finally, the preserved data must be transformed into an understandable nature to support scientific and public knowledge.