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Environment: New report takes a broader look the ecological impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster

Wider ecosystem services must be considered in damage assessments

Satellite view deepwater horizon oil spill

BP oil from the Deepwater Horizon drill rig spreads across the northern Gulf of Mexico.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The total impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico can’t be quantified without accounting for how the spill affected ecosystem services provided by the Gulf. That includes trying to quantify the cost of increased storm damage due to wetlands losses, according to a new report from the National Research Council.

But a lack of baseline data about ecological conditions, as well as  an incomplete understanding of complex ecosystem interactions make establishing the full scope of damage difficult.

Capturing the entire range of impacts will also require more data on human and economic factors. The report emphasizes that many services may have enormous value despite being difficult to measure, and that such services should be given adequate consideration in evaluating restoration options. Continue reading

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Environment: Study finds lingering impacts from Gulf oi spill

 UC Davis scientist Andrew Whitehead collects fish at a field site in May 2010, weeks after the April Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A 2013 study he co-authored shows killifish at oil-impacted sites continue to develop health defects, three years after the spill. Credit: Pat Sullivan


UC Davis scientist Andrew Whitehead collects fish at a field site in May 2010, weeks after the April Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A 2013 study he co-authored shows killifish at oil-impacted sites continue to develop health defects, three years after the spill. Photo courtesy Pat Sullivan.

Fish embryos exposed to oil show developmental abnormalities

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —Small fish living in coastal Louisiana waters were sickened by crude oil toxicity for more than a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to researchers from Lousiana, California and South Carolina.

Oil collected from the spill in 2011 continues to show toxic effects in the lab, suggesting there’s a risk of multi-generational exposure, according to Andrew Whitehead, a University of California, Davis, scientist who co-authored the study of killifish, considered an indicator species for coastal ecosystems.

Killifish embryos exposed to sediments from oiled locations in 2010 and 2011 show developmental abnormalities, including heart defects, delayed hatching and reduced hatching success. Continue reading

Environment: Is the Gulf of Mexico resilient to oil spills?

Research suggests role of bacteria has been underestimated

One of the impacted corals with attached brittle starfish. Although the orange tips on some branches of the coral is the color of living tissue, it is unlikely that any living tissue remains on this animal. PHOTO COURTESY Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER and BOEMR.

Some of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster coated and killed deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico, but a large quantity may have been consumed by oil-eating bacteria.  Photo courtesy Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER and BOEMR.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Nearly three years after the Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded and the busted Macondo Well spewed millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are still trying to figure out to what happened to all the oil.

Only a tiny amount was captured or burned at the surface, and vast quantity — nobody knows exactly how much — was “dispersed” with chemicals injected directly into the stream of oil streaming out of the broken pipes, but a surprisingly large percentage of the oil may have been broken down by microbes. Continue reading

Environment: Deepwater Horizon disaster may have caused a ‘dirty blizzard’ in the Gulf of Mexico

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A NASA satellite image shows the widespread sheen of oil spreading across the Gulf of Mexico after the April 2010 failure of the Deepwater Horizon drilling operation.

Researchers try to trace fate of BP oil in the Gulf of Mexico

By Summit Voice

FRISCO—It’s been nearly three years since BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drilling operation spewed millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, but scientists are still looking for signs of long-term impacts and trying to understand how the oil affected Gulf ecosystems.

One of the biggest questions remaining is exactly what happened to all the oil — about 5 million barrels. Along with a tiny percentage that was physically cleaned up, most studies suggest that much of the oil was processed by bacteria, or simply broken down into constituent molecules, but none of the studies have been able to account for the entire amount. Continue reading

Environment: More Gulf restoration projects coming online

Northern Gulf of Mexico beaches will get some TLC this coming summer as part of the ongoing restoration work in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Northern Gulf of Mexico beaches will get some TLC this coming summer as part of the ongoing restoration work in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Sea turtle and bird habitat improvements planned in Florida, Mississippi and Alabama

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — More restoration projects — valued at about $9 million — to repair damage from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster are set to begin in the next months along the beaches of the Florida panhandle, Mississippi and Alabama, including habitat improvements for nesting sea turtles and seabirds.

The work is part of the second phase of early restoration projects being organized by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees. Altogether, BP will fund $1 billion in early restoration projects.

“These additional projects are important steps in recovering from the oil spill, but they, along with the other Phase I projects, are just first steps,” said Trudy D. Fisher, Chair of the NRDA Trustee Council and Mississippi’s trustee. “Use of the early restoration funding has not moved quickly enough to suit any of us. I want to stress that the NRDA trustees are working hard to see that restoration funding is used in a way that is in the best interest of our natural resources.” Continue reading

Environment: Traces of Deepwater Horizon oil cause deformities, swimming deficiencies in Gulf fish

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An explosion and subsequent fire on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico led to the biggest oil spill on recornd in U.S. coastal waters. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

Study shows that sunlight intensifies the impacts of PAHs

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — In yet another sign that BP’s spilled Deepwater Horizon may have long-lasting impacts on Gulf ecosystems, a team of researchers said last week that even low-level, short-term exposure to traces of oil remnants causes deformities and impairs the swimming ability of fish.

The research was led by scientists with the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. The school is a leader in the field of marine toxicology and used a state of the art hatchery to study the effect of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on various species of fish, including cobia and mahi mahi.

PAH’s are toxic components of oil that are released from oil into the water column. The team also studied the effects of photo-enhanced toxicity, or the impact of sunlight on the potency of the toxic compounds found in the oil from the DWH spill.

A previous study by Smith University scientists showed similar impacts to fish during  embryonic stages of development.

“We found that in more sensitive species the photo-enhanced toxicity could account for up to a 20-fold higher sensitivity,” said Dr. Martin Grosell, professor and associate dean of graduate studies for the Rosenstiel School. “This is an important part of the equation because it means that traditional toxicity testing performed under laboratory conditions will tend to underestimate the toxicity that might have occurred in the natural environment under the influence of sunlight,” he added. Continue reading

Environment: New study shows dispersant makes oil up to 52 times more toxic to Gulf of Mexico microorganisms

Small grazers at the base of the food chain most directly affected

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Followup studies after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill call into question the extensive use of chemical dispersants. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The massive amounts of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after BP’s Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded was devastating to marine life, but the dispersant used in the aftermath to try and break down the oil slicks may have been even worse for some species, according to new research done by scientists with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Based on laboratory toxicity tests, the study found that the oil-dispersant mix was up to 52 times more toxic to tiny rotifers, microscopic grazers at the base of the Gulf’s food chain.

The researchers tested a mix oil from the spill and Corexit, the dispersant required by the Environmental Protection Agency for clean up, on five strains of rotifers. Rotifers have long been used by ecotoxicologists to assess toxicity in marine waters because of their fast response time, ease of use in tests and sensitivity to toxicants. Continue reading

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