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Research expedition continues monitoring impact of Deepwater Horizon oil spill on deep sea corals

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07 June 2017
Deepwater coral covered in oil and dispersant. Credit: ECOGIG and Penn State (2010)
Deepwater coral covered in oil and dispersant. Credit: ECOGIG and Penn State (2010)

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in the deaths of 11 oil rig workers and ultimately the largest marine oil spill in history. As this environmental disaster recedes into history, researchers from institutions across the U.S. continue to study its enduring ecological impacts.

One of these research teams — led by Chief Scientist Iliana Baums, associate professor of biology at Penn State University — will embark on a 12-day expedition in the Gulf on June 11 to investigate the impacts of oil, methane, and chemical dispersants on the deep sea ecosystem — in particular deep sea corals. Deep sea corals are ecologically important and provide vital habitat for marine life, including commercially important species like shrimp, crab and grouper.

The scientists are part of the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas to the Gulf (ECOGIG) research consortium, one of several research consortia supported by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.

The team will send a remotely operated vehicle (ROV Global Explorer) to depths of over 1000 meters and use high-resolution cameras mounted on the ROV to capture hundreds of still images of corals they have been monitoring yearly since shortly after the spill in 2010. These photographic data will be collected and analyzed — along with images from prior expeditions — to document the spill’s impacts and improve understanding of the mechanisms that influence coral recovery and survival.

“Continued monitoring is critical,” said project co-leader Chuck Fisher, professor and distinguished senior scholar of biology, and associate dean for graduate education in the Eberly College of Science, at Penn State University. “After seven years the 500-year old corals are still recovering from the effects of the spill and their ultimate fate is still not known. A lot remains to be learned about these amazing and beautiful animals.”

ECOGIG outreach and communication specialists aboard the ship during the “Jewels of the Gulf: Deepwater Expedition” will connect with the public in variety of ways. A live ROV camera feed will be accessible throughout the expedition at ecogig.org. School children and summer campers across the U.S. will interact with scientists onboard during live question and answer sessions, and in collaboration with Mission Blue, an interactive Facebook Live video hosted by Ocean Allison will be broadcast to a worldwide audience from the Gulf of Mexico.

Anyone can stay up to date on the research in real time by following along via ECOGIG’s Facebook, Twitter, and  Instagram channels. Additional content including educational videos, podcasts and a documentary short film will become available after the expedition.

More about Penn State and ECOGIG

Penn State is part of the 15-institution ECOGIG consortium, led by project director Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia. Other institutions participating in this expedition include Temple University, Lehigh University, University of Georgia and the U.S. Geological Survey. More information about ECOGIG is available at ecogig.org and a full press kit for Jewels of the Gulf: Deepwater Expedition is available at http://bit.ly/2r0gbAs.

Contacts

Sara Beresford, Emily Davenport, Allison Randolph
ecogigoutreach@gmail.com
706-542-5863

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