Winter 2019 – Guest Frequently Asked Questions

(From Winter 2019 Newsletter) Dr. Lisa DiPinto, senior scientist with the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), answered a few questions about her position and her thoughts on the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative’s (GoMRI) legacy.

Question: Please tell us about your role as senior scientist with OR&R at NOAA. (To learn more about NOAA OR&R, please visit the Guest FAQs with director Dave Westerholm in the summer 2016 issue of the GoMRI Quarterly Newsletter here).

Answer: I think I have one of the best jobs at NOAA! In a nutshell, my role is to improve NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration’s pollution response and assessment methods and tools through advancing science. My job involves understanding, coordinating, and communicating advances in science and methodologies within OR&R’s divisions and programs. The divisions include Emergency Response, Assessment and Restoration, Marine Debris, and Disaster Response. Each is specialized to address specific aspects of marine pollution. We also coordinate with external partners; other federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and industry partners. Specifically, I develop and implement multi-partner research projects. For example, I’m currently focusing on advancing what we learned from the six years of scientific studies conducted as part of the Deepwater Horizon response and associated Natural Resource Damage Assessment. See for example: Many of these projects advance our ability to characterize oil in the environment. By using remote sensing tools such as satellites, drones, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), we can collect data faster and more cost-effectively. It also grants us access to areas of the ocean and sensitive habitats that would otherwise be much more difficult to reach or could cause additional environmental harm to evaluate (e.g., fragile marsh habitat). Other projects ask important questions and advance our understanding of how oil affects natural resources. How does oil impact sensitive early life stages of fish and invertebrates in the shallow surface mixing layer? How are surface breathing animals, like marine mammals, exposed to oil through inhalation and aspiration in surface oil slicks? These are the kinds of questions we try to answer through our research. We are also working to advance our ability to predict and track the transport of oil in the environment. This helps us understand how best to clean it up, including in sensitive habitats. All of this work is done through partnerships, by working with internal and external experts to leverage funding and resources for research projects, publications, and outreach opportunities. Ultimately, we strive to transition the research into practice in the constantly evolving world of science.

Question: From your perspective as a scientist with OR&R, what do you think, or what would you like, the legacy of GoMRI to be?

Answer: I think that there are several important legacies from GoMRI. First is the science: GoMRI-funded research has significantly advanced our understanding of ecology and of oil spill effects on the ecologically and economically valuable resources of the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. This infusion of data, advanced technology, enhanced modeling, and new ways of studying and understanding the environment will serve as a fundamental new scientific foundation that informs future responses and assessments. This information allows us to get to the oil faster, clean up the oil more efficiently, and as such, the environmental harm following oil pollution events will be reduced as our methods for finding and responding to oil spills improve. This science also improves our ability to enhance recovery for affected resources. This is made possible through GoMRI research. Beyond the science, I see a legacy of the new cadre of trained oil spill researchers that would not have otherwise gotten engaged in this important area of research. There are now hundreds of scientists and associated laboratories that are able to continue this important work, and many who will continue to advance oil spill science beyond the lifespan of GoMRI. There is new awareness and appreciation of oil spill-related science due to the extensive efforts of GoMRI’s outreach work, and through the myriad partnerships among researchers and between researchers and their communities. These partnerships will result in better informed and more efficient response, assessment, and restoration for future events.

[Back to the Winter 2019 Newsletter]