Jul 21 2016

Discoveries from Disasters

Published by under Student blog entries

When the BP oil spill named Deepwater Horizon happened in 2010, BP set aside $500 million dollars for a private company to research its outcome and the overall environment it was affecting. With millions in the bank account Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) funded the efforts of 1,200 scientists to monitor the gulf and its inhabitants.

One of the fundamental discoveries that were made by observers were the paths of the oil itself. The oil did not follow some of the large currents that satellites had identified as the mainstreams in the gulf. This at first puzzled the scientists, but also gave them a chance to monitor and notice come medium sized currents that had never been available to the human eye because of the oil that was traveling by the currents. As many scientists will state, research and understanding is often limited by the mechanics and devices they deploy, and also human observation.

DriftersThrough the deployment of cheap drifters, the scientists were able to measure some of the first smaller currents in the gulf. This discovery was a success for the team as they tracked the sub-mesoscale currents.

As many people during the oil spill were concerned with mammals and other viewable aquatic animals, the scientists were more concerned with the effects the spill was having on more primary animals including zooplankton and insects. While many of these animals go unnoticed, some of them are the habitat builders and he foundation of the aquatic food web. The oil spill created an opportunity to broaden the scope of creatures being tracked and counted, and putting some species on the map for the first time in history. They have identified at least fifteen new organism since the oil spill, and can now begin to track the effects of these organisms in the environments and also the effects of the oil spill on the organisms themselves.

Another discovery that was noted of worthy of investigation was natural oil seeps. The oil that the companies are tapping into for human combustion also have natural seeps that leak up to 1.4 million barrels of oil into the waters every year.  These reservoirs that are leaking are feeding grounds for many microbes that are at the base of the food chain. The microbes that digest the hydrocarbon-rich oil are then preyed upon and create a thriving unique environment that scientists study by videography. The film is used to understand the process of the oil leaking, and contributing factors to the oil release. These sites are not only important to understand because of the oil leaks, or the animal life, but because of the crystalline formations of methane, that are a potential climate change impact if enough methane is collected in the marine environment. These formations are poorly understood, and the spill allowed for dedicated time and efforts to be focused on the formations to understand their future and current hazards.

 

References

Waters, H. (2015, August 20). Five Things gulf oil spill taught us about ocean . Retrieved from Smithsonian : http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/five-things-gulf-oil-spill-has-taught-us-about-ocean-180955036/?no-ist

 

 

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