Horn Point Laboratory Scientists to Study Oil Spill Effects in Gulf of Mexico

June 8, 2010

A team of scientists from the Horn Point Laboratory will be traveling to the Gulf of Mexico later this summer to study the potential effects of the gulf oil spill on plankton and fish communities in the northern Gulf. Funded by a National Science Foundation Rapid Research Response (RAPID) grant, the expedition will be led by Horn Point Laboratory Director Dr. Michael Roman and include faculty members Dr. Bill Boicourt and Dr. Jamie Pierson.

Michael Roman checking CTD

Dr. Michael Roman prepares a CTD for deployment.

“Data collected over the last five years by our research team gives us a scientifically robust starting point for assessing how the Gulf ecosystem has changed in the wake of the spill,” says Dr. Roman. “In previous years, we’ve been able to assess the effects of low oxygen bottom waters on the living resources in the northern Gulf of Mexico. We hope to shed light on the environmental consequences of the spill by comparing data to those previous research cruises.”

In addition to Drs. Roman, Boicourt and Pierson, several Horn Point research technicians will round out the UMCES team, including Ali Barba, Carole Derry and Tom Wazniak. Researchers from East Carolina University, Oregon State University, and the University of Akron will be aboard the research vessel as well.

Scanfish being deployed

Data collected from the towable Scanfish will allow scientists to measure water quality parameters over a large area of the Gulf of Mexico on the team's upcoming research cruise.

The team will use similar techniques to those used in their previous Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay research. They will deploy a towable water quality monitoring device called a Scanfish that cycles up and down in the water column with sensors that measure temperature, salinity, oxygen and small animals – zooplankton which form the base of the food web. For the Gulf trip, the team will modify the Scanfish with sensors that monitor the presence of oil. They will also analyze water samples taken at several fixed monitoring sites along the way, and use acoustical samplers to assess resident fish populations.

Given the economic importance of the Gulf of Mexico to commercial fisheries - about 20% of the U.S. total landings representing about $991 million - and recreational fishing which supports nearly 25% of the nation’s recreational saltwater fishing jobs, the research by the Horn Point scientists is important in assessing the possible effects of the oil on the northern Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

The research cruise will take place at the end of the summer and will be coordinated with other scientists monitoring fish and microbial communities in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Read more about UMCES' involvement after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.