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Consortium Awarded $9.2 Million for Gulf Oil Spill Research

Consortium Awarded $9.2 Million for Gulf Oil Spill Research

A University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI)-led consortium of seven institutions was awarded $9.2 million to continue research on the impact of oil spills and dispersants on the Gulf of Mexico and public health.  

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The award was made by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, a ten-year $500 million research program funded by British Petroleum as a result of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. The selection of the UTMSI-led consortium represented renewed support for Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies (DROPPS). Initial funding in 2012 went toward improving understanding of how dispersants affect the breakup of oil by turbulence, surface waves and other physical forces.

For example, the team found that dispersant-treated oil results in the formation of tiny droplets of crude oil in the same size range as the food of marine zooplankton. Researchers confirmed that these tiny oil droplets are readily consumed and toxic compounds in the oil accumulated in the bodies of these tiny animals, which are then passed up the food chain to larger organisms. Dr. Ed Buskey, lead scientist for the DROPPS consortium, works also with scientists Drs. Zhanfei Liu, Brad Gemmell and Deana Erdner. 

“Renewal of this funding award will provide the support needed for our consortium scientists to solve the puzzle of how oil can impact our environment,” Buskey said. “This consortium was funded for a second time to continue research into the physical and biological processes impacted by oil spills and to carry forward work in the scientific and engineering communities to understand and predict the fate of spilled oil in marine environments, as well as its effects on the environment and human health.”

The UTMSI-led consortium brings together experts from seven institutions and disciplines, including marine biology, chemistry, physics, computational modeling, imaging and healthcare. The newly funded project will continue the scientists' efforts to model the processes affecting the fate of crude oil spills, including physical breakup and dispersion of oil patches, interactions of petroleum with plankton and microbes, biodegradation of oil and the impact of aerosolized oil on public health. Other consortium members include Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Texas Tech University, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, SINTEF – Norway and Bloomberg School of Public Health – JHU.

In addition to the DROPPS consortium, UTMSI receives funding through the same initiative for other research to benefit the Gulf of Mexico. Andrew Esbaugh is a co-principle investigator in another consortia funded through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. Dr. Andrew Esbaugh is also part of a newly funded consortium with the University of Miami. His research will focus on the effects crude oil has on fish. Early life-stages of fish are particularly susceptible to crude oil, which can jeopardize their ability to swim, capture food, elude predators or reproduce.  Effects on fish surviving crude oil exposure can be persistent even after 30 days of recovery. Dr. Esbaugh’s research will examine the physiological effects of oil exposures in open ocean (mahi-mahi) and coastal (red drum) predatory species. His studies will range from molecular and cellular studies to whole animal physiology and behavioral observations. 

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Wednesday, 28 October 2020

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