Studies include first Gulf of Mexico-wide survey of oil pollution in fish and sediments
TAMPA, Fla. (April 16, 2020) – As the 10-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill draws near on April 20, scientists from the University of South Florida are available to discuss their research on the disaster’s long-term impact on the marine ecosystem. Their most significant recent finding follows a survey of 15,000 fish in which marine scientists detected oil exposure in all of them.
The results stem from the first comprehensive baseline study of oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, including waters off the United States, Mexico and Cuba. A study published this week in Nature Scientific Reports looked at 2,500 individual fish representing 91 species from 359 locations across the Gulf. USF marine scientists found the highest levels of oil exposure were detected in yellowfin tuna, golden tilefish and red drum.
Over the last decade, the USF College of Marine Science has led more than 25 research expeditions and published hundreds of studies in academic journals. Researchers mounted the first academic Gulf-wide research expedition devoted specifically to Deepwater Horizon using the then-recently acquired research vessel Weatherbird II to assess environmental damage and identify the fates of spilled oil.
Their unprecedented research was funded by a nearly $37 million grant from the independent Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to establish the Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE), an international consortium of professors, post-doctoral scholars and students from 19 collaborating institutions.
“Leading this research effort throughout the past decade has been an amazing experience,” said Dr. Steven Murawski, endowed chair of biological oceanography at the USF College of Marine Science and director of C-IMAGE. “We’ve been pulling together all of these critical pieces of research and incorporating them into larger ecosystem-wide modeling studies. This allows us to make predictions of how the Gulf will respond to future spills and deep blowouts.”
USF and C-IMAGE researchers:
- Discovered that oil contamination not only occurred widely in surface waters, but that significant quantities of crude oil were deposited at the bottom of the deep sea.
- Found that oil from the 1979 Ixtoc 1 spill, the world’s largest oil spill, remains on the seafloor four decades later.
- Built the USF-funded Marine Environmental Chemistry Laboratory (MECL), a multi-room laboratory with state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation.
- Summarized their major research findings in over 250 research publications and two books.
One of USF’s greatest achievements over the last 10 years is developing intense and consistent multi-disciplinary research and collaboration among scientists and students in different scientific disciplines. They created new methods, raised different questions and modified tools to accommodate their interdisciplinary approaches.
About the University of South Florida
The University of South Florida is a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success. Over the past 10 years, no other public university in the country has risen faster in U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings than USF. Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, USF is designated as a Preeminent State Research University by the Florida Board of Governors, placing it in the most elite category among the state’s 12 public universities. USF has earned widespread national recognition for its success graduating under-represented minority and limited-income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher income students. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference. Learn more at www.usf.edu.