Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year 5-7 Consortia Grants (RFP-IV)

Project Overview

Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems II (C-IMAGE II)

Principal Investigator
University of South Florida
College of Marine Science
Member Institutions
Duke University, Eckerd College, Florida State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Hamburg University of Technology, Mind Open Media, Mote Marine Laboratory , NHL University of Applied Sciences, Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, The University of Western Australia, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, University of Calgary, University of California San Diego, University of Florida, University of Miami, University of South Alabama, University of South Florida, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, University of West Florida, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Wageningen University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


The overarching objective of C-IMAGE II is: to advance understanding of the processes and mechanisms involved in marine blowouts and their environmental consequences.  Our consortium focuses both on extension of work started under the initial C-IMAGE project, along with three new initiatives: (a) field work at the IXTOC-I blowout site, (b) establishment of a marine exposure facility for fishes, and (c) a Gulf-wide assessment of fish and sediment contamination to better understand and predict oil fate and impacts of DWH and other spills. C-IMAGE researchers will conduct studies in six Tasks: (1) near-to-far field modeling, (2) high-pressure experimentation, (3) sedimentation of oil and its impacts, (4) impacts on the abundance, contamination and population dynamics of fishes and marine mammals, (5) toxicology studies, and (6) ecosystem modeling. Our focus is on task integration to produce fundamental understanding of basic processes of marine blowouts and ecosystem impacts.

Near- and far-field modeling studies will focus on the goal of refining our understanding of the dynamics of high pressure oil/gas/water jets, and the formation of plumes and other near-field dynamics.  How much then, did deep dispersant injection contribute to formation of sub-surface plumes? C-IMAGE researchers will expand high pressure-low temperature experimentation to include the use of dispersants to understand the resulting particle size distributions measured with a novel endoscopic camera.  Additionally, high-pressure experiments will be conducted to better understand hydrate formation and biodegradation rates in the deep sea, compared to the surface, and to characterize the behavior of multiphase flows (e.g., oil, gas and emulsions).

Previous C-IMAGE research documented a marine oiled snow sedimentation and flocculent accumulation (MOSSFA) event, wherein a substantial portion (4-10%) of the DWH oil reached the seabed.  Is a "MOSSFA-like" event the rule or the exception for marine blowouts?  To test the hypothesis that oiled marine snow accumulation is a probable outcome, C-IMAGE will collect and analyze sediment cores from the Campeche region off Mexico, in the vicinity of the IXTOC-I marine blowout (1979-1980).  C-IMAGE researchers will also continue documenting impacts and recovery through compositional changes in sedimented oil and toxicity declines of sediments by repeat sampling at 16 priority coring sites in the northern Gulf of Mexico (NGoM), near the well head.  

Sampling of fishes in the vicinity of the DWH documented a decline in skin lesion frequency and in PAH metabolites in red snapper bile following the spill, however contaminant uptake and depuration varied among species. Changes in fish community composition and declines in recruitment of several species including red snapper were also documented.  This work will continue to better understand the role DWH played in species and community dynamics, including marine mammals.  Researchers will also conduct the first Gulf-wide toxicology assessment of continental shelf fishes ever undertaken, including Mexico.

An oil exposure test facility at the Mote Aquaculture Park will be established to understand how contamination pathways (water, sediment, food) impact adult fishes. Two representative species (southern flounder and Florida pompano) will be used to test chronic and acute exposures to a range of dispersant and oil concentrations.  Existing and new methods to evaluate mutagenicity and genotoxicity in contaminated water and sediment exposures will be used.  

Ecosystem models combine field-derived data and laboratory studies in quantitative frameworks to allow hind- and forecasting of the balance of tradeoffs in response actions to oil spills.  Two ecosystem modeling frameworks are supported: one focusing on low trophic levels and modeling marine snow formation (ZOOSIM) and the other focused on high trophic levels (Atlantis).   The ZOOSIM models will simulate formation and deposition of marine snow and the roles of biological interactions among low trophic levels.  Atlantis will include an ecosystem services module and be used to understand the impacts of response efforts including the use of large fishery closed areas as happened during DWH.  

Education and Outreach activities will be a focal point of the C-IMAGE consortium, including expanded Teacher-at-Sea and classroom experiences, public outreach through audio, slide and video productions, and engagement of post-doctoral scholars and graduate students.

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.

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