Collaboration Enhances Oil Spill Research

New partnership allows USF-led research team to better study oil spills; group will gain valuable access to cutting-edge technologies to aid in analyzing long-term impacts

(From / by Eric Haun) — The University of South Florida’s (USF) College of Marine Science announced a new partnership with Agilent Technologies and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) for analytical chemistry equipment to study oil spills. Funded by GoMRI and Agilent’s Research Support Program, the partnership will allow access to cutting-edge analytical instrumentation to better understand the effects of oil as well as other emerging contaminants in the environment.

The Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of the Gulf Ecosystem (C-IMAGE) is a research consortium funded by GoMRI that will analyze the long-term pathways and impacts of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) and IXTOC-1 (Mexico) incidents. While hosted through USF, C-IMAGE has 14 institutional members in the U.S. and international partners in Canada, Mexico, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia. 

Agilent’s Research Support Program provided a high-performance liquid chromatography system (HPLC) to GoMRI. This instrument is capable of separating and quantifying analytes of interest, such as oil, found in a number of different matrices that were impacted by hydrocarbon exposure. The agreement will also result in the acquisition of two additional mass spectrometers for oil spill analytes.

Over the next three years, sediment, fish tissue, and water samples will be collected and analyzed to advance discovery towards C-IMAGE’s main goals of improving observational and predictive tools for interpreting impacts and consequences of oil spills, better understanding the DWH and IXTOC-1 oil well blowout events, and developing novel molecular oil and biological markers to assess future submarine oil blowouts and surface spills.

“Access to these state-of-the-art technologies will allow C-IMAGE and GoMRI researchers to evaluate lingering toxic effects of oil in the Gulf of Mexico from spills separated by 36 years and over 600 miles,” said Dr. Steve Murawski, C-IMAGE Principal Investigator and professor in the USF College of Marine Science.

The HPLC instrument and the two new mass spectrometers will be housed at the College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg as part of the PaleoOceanography, PaleoClimatology and Biogeochemistry and the Population and Marine Ecosystem Dynamics Laboratories.

The HPLC system, along with other instruments including Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometers (IRMS), Gas Chromatographs coupled to both Triple Quadrapole Mass Spectrometer (GC/MS/MS) and IRMS system, and LC Triple Quad Mass Spectrometer will process biological and sediment samples collected from oil affected areas through the C-IMAGE consortium.

“Acquiring these new instruments capable of measuring the vast array of oil-derived molecules and their byproducts enable us to more accurately trace the complex fate of oil in the environment with unprecedented accuracy,” said Dr. David Hollander, Chief Science Officer of C-IMAGE and USF College of Marine Science faculty member.

The complimentary HPLC instrument supports an underlying goal and vision of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.

“We are delighted see the partnership between Agilent and GoMRI’s C-IMAGE consortium,” said Dr. Chuck Wilson, GoMRI’s Chief Science Officer. “A primary vision behind the creation of GoMRI was to build oil spill research capacity in the Gulf of Mexico. This new partnership will add to that capacity and assure accurate and up to date chemical analysis equipment are available.”

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