Earth Institute Research Projects

RAPID: Rapid Assessment of Extent and Photophysiological Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Lead PI: Alexander M. Chekalyuk , Dr. Andreas Thurnherr , Ajit Subramaniam

Unit Affiliation: Biology and Paleo Environment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

June 2010 - July 2012
Atlantic Ocean ; Gulf of Mexico
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: The project will use the Advanced Laser Fluorometer, APEX floats, and LADCPs to figure out the distribution of oil in the Gulf of Mexico due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to help better determine the potential impacts of the spill on ecosystems.

The Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico has created an oil spill of unprecedented magnitude. This spill is also unprecedented in that unlike most oil spills that occur due to shipping accidents and result in release of oil near the surface of the ocean, here oil is gushing out of the ocean from a depth of approximately 1500m. While there are several ongoing efforts to understand the impact of this catastrophe on the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico, much of the initial attention focused on the surface slick and on the potential for oil to wash up onshore. However, there is increasing evidence that there is substantial amount of oil subsurface, although there are no estimates of how much, its distribution in the water column, or the impact on ecosystem, including primary producers. In particular, it is unclear how physiological status, photosynthetic capacity and population structure of these organisms are affected by both oil itself as well as the by dispersants such as Corexit. Given that the oil, the dispersants and their breakdown products are expected to have a long lasting presence in the Gulf and one of current estimates of the amount of oil released already exceeds one million barrels, these changes may have significant and enduring affects on the microbial community and primary productivity of this region.