To examine the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on microbes in the waters and sediments near the spill site, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a rapid response grant to marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia (UGA) and colleagues.
Oil in Gulf of Mexico
Image credit:Samantha Joye
The team traveled aboard the research vessel F.G. Walton Smith in the Gulf of Mexico on an oceanographic research cruise in late May and early June. On June 9, 2010, Joye presented testimony about her research at a congressional hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The release of oil from the Deepwater Horizon incident on April 20, 2010, is of greater magnitude and scope than any previous spill and is also unique because it has introduced both oil and methane gas into the deep, cold waters of the Gulf of Mexico. "This combination of oil and gas could stimulate a broader microbial population," said Joye, "as well as potentially alter the distribution of the leaking material, possibly leading to more oil and gas pooling in deep waters and sediments."
Joye and other researchers are collecting samples of sediments, deepwaters and surface waters at 20 sites in the spill area. The team is studying the factors regulating the activity of microbes in the water column, including nutrient availability, methane concentration, trace metals and vitamins, and the impact of oil on key microbial processes, including the oxidation of methane.
"This research is essential to assessing how massive amounts of oil will affect the health of the Gulf of Mexico in both the short- and long-term," said David Garrison, director of NSF's biological oceanography program. Read more about this RAPID Response project here, or see the research team's blog for further information on the scientists' observations.
To date, NSF has awarded 39 RAPID Response grants, totaling nearly $4 million, for scientific study of the gulf oil spill. For a regularly updated list of RAPID oil spill awards, see here.
Source: National Science Foundation