Winter 2017 – Note from the Research Board Chair

(From Winter 2017 Newsletter) Dr. Rita Colwell, University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University

The 2017 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science conference theme was focused on the ecosystem of the Gulf, encouraging participants to share practical applications of their research to address oil spills. GoMRI has funded thousands of researchers over the past six years through its RFPs and subsequent awards to address five major research themes. Excellent science has been accomplished, much of which is focused on understanding impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf ecosystem. Taking a step into the future, some of this science has produced discoveries and applications that have a much broader reach beyond oil spill science. Here are some examples:

  • Demetri Spyropoulos at the Medical University of South Carolina has been studying how exposure to oil and dispersants in utero can impact long-term human health. Through Dr. Spyropoulos’ research, a major component of COREXIT, the dispersant used during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill called dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DOSS), has been identified as an obesogen. These findings are important because DOSS is also found in many food products, including soda and laxatives. This could be particularly detrimental if women who are pregnant or breastfeeding transfer DOSS to their babies. Stay tuned for more information and look for the publications from this important work.
  • The CARTHE consortium focuses on understanding oil transport to improve prediction of the migration of oil during a spill and to make mitigation practices more effective. One result of their research is that CARTHE’s findings have contributed to forecasting hurricane intensity. In 2012, CARTHE’s drifters were in the Gulf of Mexico when Hurricane Isaac passed by, providing a unique opportunity to track ocean currents during a hurricane event. CARTHE’s research is also contributing to better understanding of storm surges. In the event of a spill, this information may prove critical for responders since storm surges can force oil further inland than current understanding Knowledge of currents and storm surges is very important for those who conduct search and rescue operations.
  • GoMRI scientists are studying Gulf animals and a variety of other organisms and their habitats. The information gathered is extremely useful for scientists and responders, notably in assisting them in determining impacts on these marine populations in the event of a spill. As a by-product of this work, scientists have discovered new species! Such discoveries contribute to our overall understanding of the rich biodiversity of Gulf ecosystems. For example, in 2015, Stephen Landers and his team from Troy University discovered two new species of mud dragons, and scientists from the DEEPEND consortium discovered a new species of angler fish. Dr. Dean Grubb’s work with the DEEP-C consortium also provided new information about the lives of a rarely encountered deep sea shark species.
  • In 2015, scientists from the CONCORDE consortium used technologies they developed to study effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to monitor a red tide event. Being able to track these events is important because red tide species release toxins that can seriously impact the health of humans and

All of us associated with the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative are very proud of our scientific teams and the excellent science being produced. We are delighted with the scientific contributions our community is making towards providing a better understanding of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and how we can respond to oil spills. I am especially pleased to know that our science is helping the scientific community in general, but most of all, we are helping those who live in the Gulf of Mexico states and love their beautiful environment. It is discoveries of the committed investigators who comprise our GoMRI consortia and individual research teams that make me hopeful we will continue to innovate and meet the challenges of some of our world’s most pressing problems.

[Back to the Winter 2017 Newsletter]