Category: Gulf of Mexico

Assessing the Gulf

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joys on a boatA team of researchers led by professor of marine sciences Samatha Joye will return to the site of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout to assess environmental impacts resulting from the discharge of roughly 5 million gallons of oil into the ocean over a period of 84 days:

Using the U.S. Navy's newly upgraded human-occupied deep submergence vehicle, Alvin, scientists will view the ocean floor, record observations through high-definition cameras, and collect water and sediment samples during the monthlong research cruise. This cruise is the first research voyage with the upgraded Alvin and is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.

"No one has visited these sites in a human-occupied submersible since 2010, so we are very eager to evaluate the health of these locations firsthand," said Samantha Joye, a UGA marine scientist who has studied the oil spill extensively and will be the chief scientist on the cruise. "Populations of many organisms living in the water and on the ocean floor were seriously damaged by the blowout, so we want to know how things have changed since December 2010."

During their cruise, which will last nearly the entire month of April, Joye and her colleagues will come within 2 nautical miles of the wellhead, visiting seafloor that was covered with oil in 2010.

Follow-up, especially to horrific disasters that take up a lot of media attention initially, is a crucial element of containment and cleanup of marine and wildlife habitats. We have a tendency in American society to want to move on even after such an environmental catastrophe, on a need to believe everything is okay and will work out. But that tendency can have negative consequences, particularly when everything this isn't quite okay. According to Dr. Joye, this is the case in the Gulf and despite assurances from some quarters that the marine ecosystem has bounced back, much more assessment is and will be needed for some time to come. Thanks to her and scientists from around the region for their persistence, and ability to keep attention focused on important problems. 

Students field tested during Hercules blowout emergency response

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drifter deployment on a boatWhen the Hercules 252 rig blew out and began spewing gas, condensate and other hydrocarbons into the Gulf of Mexico on July 23rd earlier this year, UGA marine scientist Samantha Joye and colleagues from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative quickly assembled a team and plan to assess the potential impacts of the accident. Graduate students involved with the project found themselves with the rare opportunity to participate in 'rapid response' science:

Five students – Joy Battles (ECOGIG), Nathan Laxague (CARTHE), Conor Smith (CARTHE), Tiffany Warner (CWC), and Sarah Weber (ECOGIG) – suddenly found themselves at the heart of this important mission, and not as sideline players. Their educational and research background and their personal fortitude were put to the test, working as a full-fledged response team to plan and execute this “herculean” data-gathering operation.

The coordinator of this response effort was University of Georgia biogeochemist and microbial ecologist Dr. Samantha Joye, science lead for the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil & Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) consortium. She said that at-sea experience, learning how to plan and stage cruises, is a requirement for oceanography students. However, this was no ordinary field work. “Planning and executing a rapid response cruise is a different animal as time is of the essence and there is no margin for error,” Joye explained, adding, “They were all faced with an incredible challenge yet they achieved remarkable success. I could not be more proud of them.”

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[UGA graduate and current marine science graduate student] Battles and Weber together served as co-chief scientists for a portion of the cruise, guiding the water column and sediment sampling around the blowout site as well as collecting samples for later analyses of methane levels and biological activity related to carbon and nitrogen cycling. Weber explained, “We had to coordinate and execute a strategic sampling plan given the evolving circumstances of the blowout and the capabilities of our scientific gear and personnel.” Though Weber had done similar work, she said, “previous to this cruise…the responsibility had never fallen on my shoulders.”

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"As long as humans endeavor to extract oil and gas resources from the Gulf’s seabed, it is important for scientists to study the consequences of such accidental releases.” – Joy Battles, University of Georgia and ECOGIG

Battles continued speaking about the impact on the Gulf’s fragile ecosystems, “It’s easy to overlook the effects of a natural gas leak because gas is invisible to the eye, but methane is an important contributor to global warming and it plays an important role in oceanic food webs.”

Fantastic experience for these students as well as an important update on the situation from Dr. Joye. Read more about this developing situation and the positive impact the consortim of universities involved in research in the Gulf of Mexico are having on this complex situation. Several of our societal goals (energy independence and protecting the environment among them) come into conflict in the Gulf. Staying informed on progress, and regress, in this important ecosystem can be difficult, especially after dramatic events fade from the headlines.

Image: Conor Smith is shown here in a time lapse photo of one CARTHE drifter being deployed from the R/V Acadiana near the site of the Hercules rig. (Photo courtesy of CARTHE)

Joye organizes research expedition to Hercules incident site

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Hercules-Natural-Gas-Rig-Fire_Coast-Guard_600x336.jpgOn July 23, a natural gas drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico known as Hercules 265 exploded. All workers were evacuated before the fire, which burned out of control, too dangerous for firefighters to approach, extinguished two days later. UGA marine scientist Samantha Joye, who has become the go-to expert on the ecological impact of Gulf disasters since the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, quickly organized a research expedition to assess the damage:

The rapid response research cruise was on site four days after the incident began on July 22, when workers lost control of the well and the blowout preventer failed.

"The data obtained on this cruise will provide the first glimpse of the impacts of the gas well blowout on the concentrations of hydrocarbons, including methane, in the water column and on water column microbial activity," Joye said.

We, along with the rest of the world, await the findings from Joye and her team about the effects of this disaster. The consortia involved in scientific reseach in the Gulf are a formidable cast from the some of the best universities in the country. Dr. Joye's work, and the reputation and trust it has earned, make UGA a leader in this important work. We appreciate the enormous effort involved in this level of coordination, as well as her abilities in this challenging field of research.

Image of the Hercules 265 rig burning out of control from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Title edited for clarity.
 

Marine Scientists receive $1.3 million Deepwater Horizon grant

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When the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began to unfold in 2010, spreading agony for acquatic life, gulf-area residents and the federal government - not to mention BP - UGA scientists knew that the long-term consequences of the spill were likely the most worrisome. Now Samantha Joye and her marine science colleagues will be able to follow up on their very important initial investigations into the consequences of the spill:

University of Georgia marine scientist Samantha Joye, who is the Athletic Association Professor in Arts and Sciences, and UGA colleagues Patricia Medeiros and Christof Meile have received a $1.3 million grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative that will enable UGA researchers and scientists from 13 other institutions to understand more thoroughly the ecosystem impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.