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

Project Overview

Assessing the Impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Sediments and Benthic Communities on the West Florida Shelf and Slope

Principal Investigator
University of South Florida
College of Marine Science
Member Institutions
Eckerd College, Florida International University, Florida State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of South Florida


We propose to assess the impact of Deepwater Horizon oil and dispersants on sediments and benthic communities on the West Florida Shelf and Slope.  In particular, assessing sub-surface oil and dispersants will gauge the effects on benthic habitat critical to nearby fisheries and marine protected areas.  We propose to use a new Ocean Instruments MC-800 multicore system to sample sediments in three depth transects that intersect suspected layers of subsurface oil at approximately 400 m and 1400 m water depth.

The transects will be aligned with those identified in the College of Marine Science’s Initial Baseline Survey.  One transect will sample areas currently influenced by the spill, and probably extend from offshore Pensacola to approximately 1600 m in DeSoto Canyon.  The second and third transects will sample areas not yet affected by the spill, extending from the Appalachicola and Tampa Bay regions across the West Florida Slope normal to the isobaths.  We plan to collect samples from these transects on an eight-day cruise aboard the R/V Weatherbird II, at no cost to this proposal.  Core samples will be dated by radioisotope methods and analyzed for oil and dispersants by organic and inorganic geochemistry, including organic compounds and metals specific to Deepwater Horizon petroleum.  In addition, benthic foraminiferal assemblages and their stable isotope geochemistry will be quantified to assess the impact on benthic communities.  In this way we seek to document possible “bathtub rings” of sub-surface oil and dispersants and their effects on benthic habitats, as a baseline for future monitoring studies.

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