2014 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference

Gulf of Mexico researchers discuss research presented during a poster session. Image Credit: Chris Kirby, GoMRI Management Team.

Gulf of Mexico researchers discuss research presented during a poster session. Image Credit: Chris Kirby, GoMRI Management Team.

(From Spring 2014 Newsletter) As we enter the fourth year of research following the Deepwater Horizon incident and associated investments focused on the Gulf of Mexico, the science community is now well-positioned to deliver integrated findings both within the scientific community and to stakeholder groups. With this in mind, “Collaboration, Integration and Synthesis” was the overarching goal for the second annual Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference. The sponsors of the conference share a goal to improve society’s knowledge and understanding of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem (of which humans are a part), in order to ensure its long-term environmental health. One important aspect of this is understanding the impacts of petroleum pollution and related stressors such as hypoxia on the marine and coastal ecosystems, as it will improve future response, mitigation, and restoration following spills. This ability to understand is challenged by the fact that the Gulf is a dynamic and complex system facing several issues, such as non-petroleum pollution, hypoxia, coastal development, erosion and inundation, and climate change. The goal of this conference was to engage and build a community of researchers working on all aspects of Gulf of Mexico ecosystem science and initiate dialogue with the users of that information.

The conference was planned and sponsored by a group of 10 partners representing academia, federal agencies, and non- governmental organizations. To accomplish the goals of “Collaboration, Integration and Synthesis,” the 2014 conference facilitated interdisciplinary discussion and promoted outcomes that require integration and synthesis across fields and themes.

Eight full-day and two half-day sessions were structured to include significant discussion time to facilitate the development of specific outcomes, such as synthesis findings, recommendations for applications, identification of research gaps (including gaps or new questions based on preliminary results integration), and plans for future interdisciplinary collaboration.

The scientific sessions addressed the following integrative topics:

  • Ecosystem assessment, vulnerability, and resilience: integrated cause and effect studies and trends across disciplines
  • Ongoing science, technology, monitoring, and mitigation strategies with respect to the DWH oil spill response: What is needed to prepare for, support, and manage future hydrocarbon exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico?
  • Valuing ecosystem services and quantifying effects of oil spills on ecosystem services through environmental, public health, and socioeconomic science
  • Promoting scientific literacy, perception, and expectations about oil spill research among stakeholders

And incorporated the following disciplinary themes:

  • Understanding the dynamic physical processes of the >Gulf of Mexico and related environment
  • Understanding the chemistry of the Gulf of Mexico system and the evolution and interactions of pollutants introduced by humans in the coastal, open-ocean, and deep-water ecosystems
  • Understanding the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, including the sea floor, water column, coastal waters, beach sediments, wetlands, marshes, and organisms
  • Technology developments for improved research and operations in the Gulf
  • Understanding the impact of environmental health and function on socioeconomic conditions and public health
  • Gulf of Mexico management and policy, including response, mitigation and restoration following environmental emergencies
  • Education and outreach

Over 900 people registered for the 2014 conference, and of those, 675 participated in a talk or poster presentation. There was great student representation at the conference with 236 in attendance, and many of those sharing their work through talks or poster presentations. Just over 150 oral presentations were given, and 404 posters were submitted.

Geographically, thirteen countries (Netherlands, Norway, Mexico, United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, Taiwan, Gambia, Australia, Germany, Japan, Ethiopia, and South Korea) and 37 states plus the District of Columbia (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin) were represented at the conference.

Several major themes were identified during the scientific sessions:

  • Researchers are beginning to understand the acute and immediate consequences of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The long-term and chronic effects are much less understood and will require more
  • Cross-collaboration across disciplines is needed in many areas – among data managers, within the modeling community, and between the science and public health communities.
  • Many conference goers highlighted the need for more ecosystem modeling. Researchers would like more metrics and more datasets for model evaluation.
  • The Gulf Coast community welcomes research, but researchers need to ensure that they have the trust of the community. That will require that the community knows that researchers have a long-term commitment to understanding the problems and the Gulf Coast
  • A continuing dialogue between the research community, agencies and industry about results is critical to federal agencies and critical to being prepared to participate and support research in the event of a further
  • More, different, and longer baseline information is still needed. Understanding the baseline is critical to understanding the changes in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem (including the human population).
  • New avenues for dispersant development are well underway and offer promising alternatives for using lower doses and coping with viscous crude oil. However, displacing existing dispersants in the marketplace faces challenges including government regulations, the need to work with many types of oil, cost, and questions about toxicity and
  • The Gulf researchers have identified the importance of a Gulf observing system. There is an opportunity for it to happen if the science and monitoring communities work together, leverage resources and communicate information appropriately with funders and decision-makers. It will need to be given very high priority by the research

The gathering of almost 900 researchers in Mobile caught the attention of several media outlets! The following headlines are only a sampling of the coverage that the conference received.

Gulf of Mexico Conference discusses debunking myths and misconceptions, New Orleans Times Picayune

Oil spill conference touches on Gulf fisheries and social toll in communities, AL.com

Ecological effects of oil spill dispersants among topics of academic conference, Lagniappe Mobile

Scientific spill studies, funded by BP, start to yield results, The Huffington Post


[Back to the Spring 2014 Newsletter]