USGS Scientists in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Making a Difference (Invited)
From the very first call to action after the discovery of the underwater oil discharge, the USGS has been at the forefront addressing the research and information needs for this disaster of national importance and ecological significance. USGS geospatial experts were the first to mobilize before the oil hit the shoreline, tracking its location using advanced imagery and data integration. Biologists on the ground took lessons from Exxon-Valdez to heart, documenting the state of the ecosystem prior to impact. Geologists have been enlisted to examine the rocks thrown up onto nearby ships during the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon to help decipher the cause of the tragedy that took 11 lives. Perhaps least visible to the outside world were the USGS geophysicists, working away inside BP headquarters in Houston to develop new methods to ascertain and demonstrate the integrity of the Macondo well. It was thanks to their efforts that the well remained shut in after July 15th and spilled not another drop of oil, even though many had cast doubt on the ability of the well to hold pressure. USGS coastal and marine geologists continue to work on the oil budget, refining models for the sinks of oil in the environment and the time scales over which oil remains an environmental hazard.
NASA Earth Science Activities Related to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (Invited)
Measurements from a host of NASA spaceborne and airborne instruments have been obtained, distributed, and utilized since the earliest days of the Deep Water Horizon explosion and oil spill. NASA-generated products have contributed to the mapping and monitoring of the surface manifestation of the spill. Advanced airborne instrumentation, including the JPL Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) and the Ames Digital Camera for Surveys (DCS), flown on both the NASA ER-2 and Twin Otter aircraft, provided critical measurements allowing the interagency development of upper ocean oil concentration products. In addition to aiding the interagency response teams, the NASA airborne data are being used to investigate the oil's impact on the coastal biosphere and the mechanisms by which the ecosystem responds. This presentation will outline the scope and magnitude of the NASA contributions to the national oil spill response effort, including examples of data products, operational and scientific advancements, and discussions of critical interagency and interdisciplinary collaborations.
NOAA Response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill - Protecting Oceans, Coasts and Fisheries (Invited)
As the nation’s leading scientific resource for oil spills, NOAA has been on the scene of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill from the start, providing coordinated scientific weather and biological response services to federal, state and local organizations. NOAA has mobilized experts from across the agency to help contain the spreading oil spill and protect the Gulf of Mexico’s many marine mammals, sea turtles, fish, shellfish and other endangered marine life. NOAA spill specialists advised the U.S. Coast Guard on cleanup options as well as advising all affected federal, state and local partners on sensitive marine resources at risk in this area of the Gulf of Mexico. As a major partner in the federal response to this incident, NOAA provided the necessary coastal and marine expertise required for sound, timely decision-making and helped protect the affected Gulf Coast communities and coastal marine environment and will continue to do so for ongoing restoration efforts.
National Science Foundation Contribution to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Response (Invited)
Within one week after the collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, scientists from the US academic community began approaching NSF requesting funds to support rapid-response research. NSF staff moved quickly to identify those researchers whose ideas fell within NSF’s specific mandate to support basic scientific research and who were well poised logistically and experientially to contribute significantly to the overall national response to the oil spill. Those researchers were encouraged to submit proposals through NSF’s RAPID program so that awards could be made quickly - typically from less than 24 hours to several days after receipt of the RAPID proposal. This presentation will summarize the mechanics and effectiveness of the NSF RAPID response, the topical breadth of research supported, and our current view of how this approach to research funding may better serve science in the national interest in future years.
Undersea plumes of oil and dissolved gas and sedimented oil along the seafloor alter the ocean system following the BP oil well blowout. (Invited)
The explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig resulted in a deepwater blowout that injected vast quantities of crude oil and low molecular weight hydrocarbon gases into Gulf of Mexico for almost three months. The depth of the blowout (1500m), the rate of oil and gas injection, and the duration of the event underscore the unprecedented nature of this environmental disaster. While most of the released crude oil reached the ocean surface, generating massive surface slicks, some of the oil was trapped in extensive undersea plumes. These oil plumes occupied discrete layers of varying thickness between 1000 and 1300m water depth to the southwest of the wellhead. Unlike the crude oil, the vast majority of methane released from the wellhead appears to have dissolved into the deep cold seawater: concentrations of thermogenic gases (methane, ethane, propane, butane and pentane) were 10,000 to 1,000,000 times higher than previous concentrations measured at similar depths in the Gulf of Mexico. Very little gas appears to have fluxed to the atmosphere; most of the released gas was trapped in the undersea plumes. The injection of hydrocarbons into undersea plumes generated a swift phylogenetic and metabolic response in the microbial community -- hydrocarbon degrading microorganisms flourished and rates of methane oxidation and oxygen consumption were elevated by several orders of magnitude relative to background rates. Oil on the surface ocean was weathered and dispersed, resulting in an “oil aggregate snow storm” on the seafloor. Oil deposition to the seafloor generated substantial changes in microbial community and patterns of microbial activity.