Scientists Train Students on Oil Spill Research

Posted by Eric Haun
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
WHOI researcher Catherine Carmichael works alongside high school science teacher Shawn Walker to collect oiled sand patty samples for analysis. (Photo by Danielle Groenen, Deep-C Consortium)

As part of ongoing research nearly four years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) will team up with a group of high school students in Florida to collect remnants of oil from Gulf Coast beaches this week.

Marine chemist Chris Reddy studies how the many compounds that compose petroleum hydrocarbon, or oil, behave and change over time after an oil spill. He and his researchers have collected and analyzed about 1,000 oil samples from the Gulf Coast since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

"With an iconic and wide-ranging spill like Deepwater Horizon, the need to perform such long-term studies is a top priority for me," said Reddy. He has already catalogued many of these samples in an on-line database to make the data available to the public and scientific community.

How the compounds react and weather in the environment also can help inform the chemical industry, governments, and clean-up efforts when future oil spills occur.

"Spilled oil undergoes a series of changes due to Mother Nature called 'weathering.' Weathering differs from one site to another based on several factors including the type of oil spilled and the local climate. Therefore, each location is a living laboratory that allows us to interrogate how Nature responds to these uninvited hydrocarbons."

On Feb. 28, the group of students will work alongside Reddy’s team and colleagues from the Florida State University in one such living laboratory at a Pensacola, Fla. beach. This field expedition is part of a new education initiative called the Gulf Oil Observers (GOO), which trains volunteers to be effective citizen scientists. GOO mentors are educators and scientists associated with the Deep-C Consortium research project – a long-term study investigating the environmental consequences of oil released in the deep Gulf on living marine resources and ecosystem health.

The students from West Florida High School of Advanced Technology in Pensacola will collect samples of small, round clumps of sand mixed with crude oil. These oiled sand patties can be easily overlooked on the beach. No bigger than a silver dollar, they resemble small dark rocks, driftwood, and other beach debris.

"But if you know what to look for, they’re not difficult to identify," said Reddy. That’s why he and WHOI researcher Catherine Carmichael will train 23 high school students, the first group of GOO volunteers, on-site in Pensacola, Fla. to help conduct this research.

"The nature of our research – investigating the issues involved in understanding and protecting ecological communities in the Gulf – provides rich opportunities for engagement with teachers, students, and the general public," said Eric Chassignet, professor of oceanography at the Florida State University and director of the Deep-C Consortium.

Before going out into the field, the GOO volunteers participated in a series of classroom lessons led by Florida State University educators that covered topics including how to think like a scientist, applying the scientific method, the effectiveness of oil‐eating microbes, and information about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They were also trained in sample collection and scientific observation techniques such as how to properly document, photograph, and record observations in the field that they will apply to the collection of the reddish-brown oiled sand patties.

The samples collected during the GOO field study will be sent to WHOI for analysis in order to determine what they are comprised of and if they contain oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill. Through the on-line database, GOO volunteers will be able to track the results of their samples while Deep‐C scientists can use the data to further their research efforts.

"Working outdoors on a beach is a great way to get young scientists out of the classroom and into the field where they often develop a strong bond to the work. And when they know they are participating in something more than just another homework assignment, there is considerably more buy-in," said Reddy.

He and Carmichael gave a guest presentation about their research and their careers to this group of Honors Marine Science students in December.

"The high school students bring a refreshing perspective that supercharges me," said Reddy.

While in the field this week, the students will learn and apply the scientific method and process as part of this on-going research into the effects of crude oil on the environment funded by a grant from the BP/Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI).

"The Gulf Oil Observers project was designed to allow students to share in the excitement of scientific discovery," said Chassignet.

Thus far, Reddy’s research has yielded groundbreaking results. One such finding is that more oil than expected was weathered by a process called oxidation through exposure to sunlight and oil-eating microbes. The scientists have also found that the subtle changes in a compound’s shape or size can affect the rate it biodegrades. This discovery can be applied to the development of new industrial compounds that can quickly break down or last longer when released into the environment.

In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig released an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico from a damaged well about 40 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast. Following the disaster, BP made a commitment to grant $500 million over 10 years to fund an independent research program designed to study the impact of the oil spill on the environment and public health in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Never in the history of oil spill science has this research been funded so well with the decade-long effort from BP through GoMRI. Having 10 years for scientists to develop new techniques and insights will inevitably lead to advancements in this area of research," said Reddy.

whoi.edu

  • Samples will be analyzed in Woods Hole, Mass. and be added to the oil sample library and an on-line database. (Photo by Bryan James, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

    Samples will be analyzed in Woods Hole, Mass. and be added to the oil sample library and an on-line database. (Photo by Bryan James, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

  • WHOI senior scientist Chris Reddy and his researchers have collected more than 1,000 oil samples along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. (Photo by Catherine Carmichael, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

    WHOI senior scientist Chris Reddy and his researchers have collected more than 1,000 oil samples along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. (Photo by Catherine Carmichael, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

  • Oil spill researchers are collecting oiled sand patties to study how the various compounds in oil break down or persist in the environment. (Photo courtesy of the Deep-C Consortium)

    Oil spill researchers are collecting oiled sand patties to study how the various compounds in oil break down or persist in the environment. (Photo courtesy of the Deep-C Consortium)

  • Samples will be analyzed in Woods Hole, Mass. and be added to the oil sample library and an on-line database. (Photo by Bryan James, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
  • WHOI senior scientist Chris Reddy and his researchers have collected more than 1,000 oil samples along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. (Photo by Catherine Carmichael, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
  • Oil spill researchers are collecting oiled sand patties to study how the various compounds in oil break down or persist in the environment. (Photo courtesy of the Deep-C Consortium)
Maritime Reporter March 2014 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Environmental

Miami Tugboat Oil Spill: Coast Guard Respond

The US Coast Guard says that its crewmembers are responding to a fuel spill in the vicinity of Government Cut in Miami, following a leak discovered aboard the 95-foot tugboat 'Neptune'.

Shipowners to Become Liable for Costs of Wreck Removal

Shipowner liability is on the horizon as the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal Wrecks will enter into force on 14 April 2015 following the deposit,

California Port Seeks Public Feedback on Expansion Plans

The Port of San Diego apprises it is to host separate open house events for the public to provide feedback on its long-range vision and 'Integrated Port Master Plan Update' process.

News

KVH Precision Sensors for Geodetics' Inertial Navigation Systems

KVH Industries, Inc.,  a leading manufacturer of high performance fiber optic-based inertial sensors and gyros has entered into a strategic partnership with Geodetics Inc.

Search resumes for missing in S. Korean ferry disaster

South Korean coastguards and navy divers resumed their search on Thursday for nearly 280 people still missing after a ferry capsized in what could be the country's

POSH may raise $311 Mln in Singapore IPO

PACC Offshore Services Holdings (POSH) could raise at least S$388.27 million ($311 million) after pricing its initial public offering near the bottom of the pricing range indicated earlier,

Marine Science

KVH Precision Sensors for Geodetics' Inertial Navigation Systems

KVH Industries, Inc.,  a leading manufacturer of high performance fiber optic-based inertial sensors and gyros has entered into a strategic partnership with Geodetics Inc.

BOEM gives more time to submit plans OCS

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced today the publication of its Final Rule to extend time requirements for submitting a Site Assessment Plan

Three NOAA scientists honored by White House

The White House yesterday awarded three NOAA scientists with Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. The award is the highest honor given

Ocean Observation

US: $4B in Loan Aid for Renewable Energy

The U.S. Energy Department on Wednesday unveiled a plan for up to $4 billion in loan aid for renewable energy companies to help rejuvenate a program that faced

Three NOAA scientists honored by White House

The White House yesterday awarded three NOAA scientists with Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. The award is the highest honor given

ONR Researchers Explore a Changing Arctic

As sea ice continues to recede at a record pace in the Arctic, officials at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) on April 14 announced new efforts to determine the

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Maritime Security Maritime Standards Pod Propulsion Ship Electronics Ship Simulators Shipbuilding / Vessel Construction Sonar Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.2471 sec (4 req/sec)