Quantifying toxicant exposure from the Oil and Dispersant System (ODS, the chemically or naturally created microscopic droplets of oil and any associated chemical dispersant) is one of the critical goals of oil spill recovery efforts, both in terms of long-term environmental restoration and mandated damage assessment. Following Deepwater Horizon (DWH), scientific efforts were focused on understanding deep sub-surface modes of ODS transport and chemical change as it related to organism exposure. Ironically, little understanding of sub-surface exposure exists for the more productive nearshore and coastal environments. The University of Southern Mississippi proposes the CONsortium for oil spill exposure pathways in COastal River- Dominated Ecosystems (CONCORDE) to expressly address how complex fine-scale structure and processes in coastal waters dominated by pulsed-river plumes control the exposure, impacts, and ecosystem recovery from offshore spills like the Deepwater Horizon release of 2010.
Research Activities and Impacts: CONCORDE will characterize complex circulation and its relevance for toxin exposure movement using a combination of remotely-sensed and field-collected oceanographic data around three major campaigns. The first of these will be an intensive unmanned surface and sub-surface vehicles effort (a.k.a. "Gilderpalooza") in July 2015. The other efforts will incorporate ship-based plankton imaging and mooring deployment cruises in Fall 2015 and Summer 2016. These data will be assimilated into an operational ocean 3-D circulation model that informs biological sampling, adaptive physical and chemical measurements, and the synthetic model. We will characterize the distribution patterns of planktonic organisms at scales of centimeters to meters using a state-of-the-art plankton imaging system. These data will be superimposed on the 3-D hydrodynamic model to forge an understanding of how plankton are forced by coastal physics in a way that makes them potentially vulnerable to ODS toxin exposure. The integration and synthesis of CONCORDE research will advance the understanding of how coastal marine ecosystems respond to, and recover from, large-magnitude oiling events. The combined use of field and modeling approaches will enable CONCORDE to answer questions relevant to other river-dominated ecosystems outside the Gulf of Mexico.
Societal Impacts: Following the DWH oil spill, public trust in science was gravely damaged. Members of the public were frustrated by the lack of clear information needed to respond to the oil spill and predict its results on human and ecosystem health. In a comprehensive Education and Outreach Program, CONCORDE will utilize its scientists and research activities to 1) engage specific public audiences (teachers and culturally diverse fishers) in conducting and sharing the results of scientific inquiry; 2) communicate research results to the broader public audience via community meetings and website and public presentations; and 3) assess the level of trust in science among members of the public and the degree of success of this project in improving trust. Five targeted activities will allow CONCORDE to maximize its societal impact. These include Teacher Training/Educational Resource Development; Cultural Connections to Vietnamese, African-American, and Croat and Canary Island (Isleños) Immigrant Communities; Citizen Science; Community Outreach; and Public Dissemination of Science. The impact of CONCORDE in rebuilding trust in the Northern Gulf communities will be rigorously evaluated by trained Education and Outreach Program Specialists.
Project Research Overview (2015):
An overview of the proposed research activities from the GoMRI 2015 Meeting in Houston.
Direct link to the Research Overview presentation.