Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year 2-4 Consortia Grants (RFP-I)

Project Overview

Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG)

Principal Investigator
University of Mississippi
National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology
Member Institutions
Auburn University, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Cedar Shoals High School, Columbia University, Florida State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard University, J. Craig Venter Institute, Oregon State University, Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, The University of Texas at Austin, University of Alaska at Fairbanks, University of California Santa Barbara, University of Georgia, University of Maryland, University of Mississippi, University of New Hampshire, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Southern Mississippi


The ECOGIG consortium brings together physical oceanographers, marine biologists, and chemists from 14 research institutions in a holistic effort to understand the impacts of natural seepage versus that of abrupt, large hydrocarbon inputs on coupled benthic-pelagic processes in deepwater ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico, and to chart the long-term effects and mechanisms of ecosystem recovery from the Macondo Blowout. Starting with quantifications of the physical mechanisms that distribute and redistribute oil within the coupled benthic-pelagic system, the impact of oil on the pelagic food web, including, microorganisms, phytoplankton, grazers, and ichthyoplankton, will be determined by evaluating its toxicity, biodegradation, and trophic transfer.

Using this approach, we will also contrast the geochemical and biotic consequences of slow, diffuse natural seepage with that of a large pulse of hydrocarbon input. Directed laboratory experiments will reveal the nature of the microbial consortia involved in hydrocarbon degradation in pelagic and benthic habitats; a substantial part of our effort will aim to understand the factors regulating the degradation of specific hydrocarbon components (alkanes, PAH, BTEX, etc) in different deepwater environments. Discovery and quantification of the pathways and regulation of microbial hydrocarbon degradation will be linked to elucidating the impact of dispersants on microbial hydrocarbon degradation and on oil sedimentation, and to quantifying the impact of sedimented oil residue on bottom communities, focusing on unique deepwater coral ecosystems.

Using long-term in situ monitoring of geospatial and temporal dynamics of the natural oil spill response, the trajectory of the ecosystem impact and recovery from the Macondo spill will be followed several years and projected into the future using computational models. We will identify environmental controls favoring remediation of the oil spill damage by microbial oil degradation in the benthos, and associated macrofaunal recovery. The investigator team is well suited to conduct these studies as many of the PIs have collected a large body of baseline data by conducting research in the Northern Gulf of Mexico over the past 10 or more years; many of the PIs have been involved in Macondo blowout research since May 2010.

The proposed research will be conducted during multiple annual research cruises to AUV mapped and groundtruthed natural seep sites in the Northern Gulf, to sites impacted by the Macondo Blowout, including deepwater coral sites, and to control sites where there is neither natural seepage nor Macondo impact. ECOGIG cruises will charter UNOLS vessels (e.g., the R/V Pelican and R/V Endeavor) and ROVs (e.g., the JASON) to complete the proposed work. Research cruises as well as annual PI meetings and SKYPE teleconferences will serve as venues for sharing of data and ideas among the ECOGIG PI group. Data management and archiving will be achieved through collaboration with NOAA’s National Coastal Data Development Center; our data management protocols will meet or exceed the standards put forth in the GRI Data Management Policy Framework and GRI Data Center.

The education outreach efforts encompass teaching and scholarly engagement on all levels from undergraduate to faculty. A wide portfolio of personal outreach activities by the Co-PIs will directly and authentically communicate their experience and observations in the field to the interested general public. Institutionally coordinated outreach partnerships within The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC) will reach hundreds of partner organizations across the region by designing, delivering, and evaluating needs-based outreach programs. Through MASGC, outreach initiatives at each of the research partner institutions will be amplified and broadcasted, using social media, video distribution and internet connectivity, across the southeastern USA, which is most immediately affected by the oil spill and most in need of such partnerships. MASGC is orchestrating an ECOGIG-wide campaign to synthesize and to communicate survey and research results, unusual and rarely seen images of the deepwater environment, authentic cruise reporting in the field, and the multiple perspectives of scientists and educators, in an effort to transcend academic or societal boundaries, and to make the results of this research endeavor available to all stakeholders in the future of the Northern Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

Project Research Overview (2015):

An overview of the project research activities from the GoMRI 2015 Meeting in Houston.

Direct link to the Research Overview presentation.

Proposed Research Overview (2011):

For an overview of the proposed research, see the Proposed Research Overview presentation from the GoMRI Fall 2011 Meeting in New Orleans.

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