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Marsh Madness Scientists Focus on Oil Spill Effects

Marsh Madness Scientists Focus on Oil Spill Effects

July 5, 2012

LUMCON is one of eight consortia funded through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (via BP) to study the impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While many efforts are underway inshore and offshore, the marsh ecosystem teams merged in oiled and un-oiled comparative sites in Terrebonne and Barataria Bays during June in a coordinated effort floated by the LUMCON and Louisiana State University small boat flotillas. Other boats joined the effort from the eastern side of Barataria Bay later in the week. The 3-day study, with some research occurring before and after the main thrust, was a well-orchestrated effort to make collections, tally observations and conduct multiple experiments.  The number of small boats converging on the marsh transects and the number of eager scrambling marsh-loving scientists would normally be a scourge on the marsh ecosystems, but the teams use boardwalks to access study transects and avoid harming the marshes that they are studying. This is a critical element of the experimental design to study long-term effects without destroying the experimental foundation.

Studies focused on a diverse array of ecosystem components—microbial communities of the marsh edge, indicators of marsh “health” and response to oiling, soil strength, sulfide concentrations in vertical profiles in marsh sediments, nitrification potential of marsh soils, gas flux across the sediment-water interface, insect populations (in May), fish populations, and hydrocarbon composition and concentrations in water, interstitial water and sediments. The scope of the research included projects led by scientists from LUMCON, LSU, Rutgers University, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the LSU AgCenter, Univ. of Tennessee, and the Ecosystems Center of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole MA (in absentia). The Ecosystems Center will engage further within the marsh ecosystem transects in July.

Two graduate students will join the LSU Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences in the fall term and focus on effects of the oil spill. Two LUMCON REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates, NSF) students working with Drs. Brian Roberts and John Marton are involved in the summer’s collections and measurements. In addition to discovery as a result of the oil spill, the LUMCON consortium desires to educate and enlist a well-trained group of scientists that can pursue similar studies in the future.