Research Vessel to Embark on Month-long Cruise from Port of Pascagoula

PASCAGOULA — The Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Falkor research vessel will depart on a science mission from the Port of Pascagoula today.

(From / by Christina Steube) — The month-long research mission will take 12 scientists representing seven institutions to the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. On board the Falkor are remotely operating vehicles that will dive 10,000 feet underwater to compare sediments and coral near the spill to the sediments and coral near areas of natural oil seeps.

“The overall goal is to see what the effects are of oil in the deep ocean environment and to understand better the fate and effects of the oil once it’s released,” Ian MacDonald, chief scientist of the operation, said. He added that natural seeps are part of the environment, but an ecosystem cannot respond in the same way to a catastrophic spill releasing oil at a billion times faster than a natural seep.

“There are abundant natural seeps, but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay or that that ecosystem will spring into action and protect us if you have a catastrophic blowout,” MacDonald said.

The Falkor will work in conjunction on this study with the Pelican research vessel, which will depart from Louisiana on Saturday.

The mission will be funded by BP’s Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. They are funding eight studies over three years for a total of $110 million. This study by the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf team led by Raymond Highsmith of the University of Mississippi costs about $11 million, according to Chuck Wilson, chief science officer of the Initiative.

Highsmith said the ECOGIG team plans to sample the oil on the Gulf floor that is now covered with sediment.

The Falkor will return to the Port of Pascagoula on Nov. 28.

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