Five Years After Gulf Oil Spill, Texas A&M Researchers Looking For Answers

As the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico approaches, numerous Texas A&M University scientists are involved in some of the most advanced research in the world on various projects related to the worst oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry – one that they say may take many years to understand its long-range effects.

(From / by Texas A&M University) — They say their research could also help communities cope more effectively in the event of a similar incident in the future.

On April 20, 2010, the huge rig exploded in the Gulf, killing 11 people and releasing almost 5 million barrels – at least 210 million gallons – of oil for 87 days before being capped on Sept. 19.

Antonietta Quigg, professor and associate vice president for research and graduate studies at Texas A&M-Galveston, received a $7.2 million grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to study the impacts of the oil on the Gulf ecosystem and public health. The grant is part of a $500 million fund established by British Petroleum to support research about the spill.

“One of our main goals is to study how hydrocarbons trigger production of substances that may protect organisms from the oil or contribute to the degradation of the oil, or both,” Quigg explains.
“This can help us understand the fate of the oil, such as how it degrades, disperses or its sedimentation once an oil spill occurs.
The information may help us establish better predictive models for future spills, and also improved risk assessment and management plans.”
As for long-term effects to marine life, Quigg says that extensive research is being done in this area, and “we are just now getting a better picture of what this may be. We do know that marine life from the smallest creatures to fish, turtles and whales may carry the consequences of the spill.”

Also working with Quigg on the project are Texas A&M colleagues Peter Santschi (professor of marine science on the Galveston campus), and Tony Knap and Terry Wade (director and deputy director, Geochemical and Environmental Research Group, or GERG, in College Station).

Piers Chapman, professor of oceanography, heads a multi-university group that has been busy since the spill – they have made seven research cruises near the spill area and are about to head out again to study a natural gas seep. Their focus is studying oil in the water column and how and where it moves, and collecting samples for fellow oceanographer Shari Yvon-Lewis, who is examining the carbon system in the Gulf and how it has changed since the spill.
On the other ship is Scott Socolofsky of Texas A&M’s civil engineering faculty, who with the aid of a remotely operated vehicle, is looking at the bubble plumes produced by the seep and how these develop and disperse.

“We have developed models that we believe can follow an oil particle from its initial release until it ends up on the beach,” Chapman points out. “This includes such changes as dissolution, evaporation and dispersion within the water column as well as slick movement on the surface.
“To do this, we had to carry out a number of lab tests and field programs and these have given us a much better idea of how fast the Gulf of Mexico material mixes around.”
Working with Chapman is oceanographer Steve DiMarco, who has been studying the physical transport of water and material in the region of the spill. He and his group recently completed a unique experiment using dye as a “tracer” to determine how fast dissolved and particulate material move around in the Gulf.

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