Posts Tagged ‘gulf of mexico’

Skidaway Institute scientist shares Gulf oil spill research grant

December 17, 2014

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Catherine Edwards is part of a research team that has received an $18.8 million grant to continue studies of natural oil seeps and track the impacts of the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

Known as ECOGIG-2 or “Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf,” the project is a collaborative, multi-institutional effort involving biological, chemical, geological and chemical oceanographers led by the University of Georgia’s Samantha Joye. The research team has worked in the Gulf since the weeks following the 2010 Macondo well blowout.

The three-year, $18.8 million ECOGIG-2 program was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, or GoMRI.

“Our goal is to better understand the processes that have affected the oil spill since 2010,” Edwards said. “How the droplets were dispersed? Where the oil went? How it was taken up by small microbes and also the effects on animals further up the food chain?”

Skidaway Institute scientist Catherine Edwards adjusts a glider’s buoyancy with graduate students Sungjin Cho and Dongsik Chan.

Skidaway Institute scientist Catherine Edwards adjusts a glider’s buoyancy with graduate students Sungjin Cho and Dongsik Chan.

Edwards’ role in the project is to use autonomous underwater vehicles, also called “gliders,” to collect data on conditions around the spill site. Equipped with sensors to measure characteristics such as depth, water temperature, salinity and density, the gliders can cruise the submarine environment for weeks at a time, collecting data and transmitting it back to a ship or a shore station.

“We want to understand the ocean currents—how they change over time and how they change in depth,” Edwards said. “Surface measurements give us a two-dimensional picture of the ocean. Glider data in the vertical provides more valuable information for more fully understanding ocean currents and how they arise.”

The gliders will operate both in conjunction with shipboard instruments and also independently. One advantage of using the gliders is they can operate during storms and rough weather, when it may not be possible to use ships. Edwards said shipboard work doesn’t always give a full picture of ocean dynamics simply by the fact that they can only go out when the weather is reasonably clear.

When working in conjunction with research ships, the gliders can provide additional observations, significantly improving the quality of the data set. The gliders also report dissolved oxygen concentrations and optical measurements of chlorophyll and organic matter, and may also be used as a test vehicle for new instruments in development.

Edwards will use “GENIoS,” a new software package, to help navigate the gliders. GENIoS uses high-resolution forecast models of wind and ocean currents, along with information from the glider itself, to calculate the optimal path for the gliders. This will improve the quality of the scientific data collected.

GENIoS is a collaboration among Edwards, Fumin Zhang from the Georgia Institute of Technology and their two Georgia Tech Ph.D. students, Dongsik Chang and Sungjin Cho. GENIos has been tested for more than 210 glider-days on the continental shelf off Georgia and South Carolina. This experiment will be its first test in the Gulf of Mexico.

Edwards also hopes to use this project to test the gliders as platforms for new, experimental sensors developed by other members of the ECOGIG-2 team.

Others involved in ECOGIG-2 include UGA marine sciences faculty Christof Meile, Renato Castelao and Catherine Edwards as well as Annalisa Bracco and Joe Montoya of Georgia Tech.

For additional information, contact Catherine Edwards at (912) 598-2471 or


Deepwater Horizon oil spill prompts Skidaway Institute research

December 11, 2012

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the impetus behind a research project at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography to study the effects of spilled oil on blue crabs and grass shrimp.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill as viewed from space./ NASA Photo

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill as viewed from space./ NASA Photo

The project is looking at two forms of oil. The first, emulsified oil, is an oil-water mixture produced by wave turbulence.  The oil doesn’t change chemically, but the emulsification produces a thicker, more viscous mixture.

“Because the emulsified oil is so much thicker, it becomes a much more difficult clean-up issue, especially if it is washed ashore,” said Skidaway Institute professor Richard Lee, the chief scientist on the project.

Lee and his team are exposing blue crabs and grass shrimp to emulsified oil in sediment and then watching to see how this affects their molting, which is the way the shrimp and crabs grow.

The second focus is on oil that has been treated with dispersants. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon spill, millions of gallons of chemical dispersants were sprayed over the surface of the Gulf to disperse the oil slick. These break the oil down into micro-droplets. Dispersed oil forms a underwater plume that can extend for many miles.

Richard Lee works with the tanks containing crabs and grass shrimp in his laboratory at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

Richard Lee works with the tanks containing crabs and grass shrimp in his laboratory at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

In the laboratory, the researchers are adding emulsified oil into the tanks containing the crabs and also feeding the crabs squid that has been contaminated by the emulsified oil. Dispersed oil droplets are added to tanks containing embryos of crabs and shrimp.

“What we are trying to determine here is just how the exposure to dispersed or emulsified oil affects the growth and molting crabs and shrimp,” said Lee.

The scientists selected grass shrimp and blue crabs for the study because of the important places they occupy in the marine food web. Although grass shrimp are not typically harvested as a commercial product, they are abundant in salt marshes and estuaries, and are an important food source for many fish. Blue crabs are also a food source for many fish in addition to having value as a commercial catch.

The study is funded by a $500,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lee is working with research associate Karrie Bulski at Skidaway Institute. The team also includes Sook Chung from the institute of Marine and Environmental Technology at the University of Maryland, and Harriet Perry and Christopher Snyder from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

Sook is looking at the crab and shrimp at a molecular level. “We believe that the genes that regulate molting will be affected, and the crab and shrimp will not molt properly,” said Lee. “Hormone regulation and its relationship to contaminant exposure is something we need to learn more about, and Dr. Sook carries out that kind of research.”

The researchers will also send tissue samples, primarily from the shrimp and crab’s endocrine organs, to another researcher, Anna Walker, at Mercer University School of Medicine to look for physiological or pathological changes.

Another major part of the project will be to explain the results of the study to the public, especially the fishermen whose livelihood depends on a healthy marine ecosystem.  A significant part of the grant, $80,000, is designated for the establishment and implementation of a Community Outreach for Accurate Science Translation teams in four communities along the north central Gulf of Mexico coast.

“This is primary role for the team from the University of Southern Mississippi,” said Lee. “They will develop public presentations on the project and the results to educate them on what this all means to them.”

The project will run through 2013.

Skidaway Institute crew wins top customer service award

October 12, 2012

The crew of Skidaway Institute of Oceanography’s Research Vessel Savannah has been honored with the Gold Award in the Chancellor’s Customer Service Recognition Awards. The crew won the award in the team category in a competition among all 36 institutions in the University System of Georgia for year ending June 30, 2012.

The crew of the R/V Savannah, (l-r) Chris Keene, John Bichy, Pete Casserleigh, Michael Richter, Raymond Sweatte and Richard Huguley.

The 92-foot, ocean-going R/V Savannah is used by scientists from Skidaway Institute as well as other institutions for oceanographic research in waters ranging from Cape Hatteras to the Gulf of Mexico.

The award was based on a survey of scientist-customers in which R/V Savannah crew received outstanding reviews. In the two key categories that dealt directly with the crew and their interaction with the science parties, the scientists rated the crew with an average of 4.97 on a scale of one to five.

The crew received the award in a ceremony at Clayton State University on October 4th. The team is led by Captain Raymond Sweatte, and includes First Mate Peter Casserleigh, Engineer Richard Huguley, Second Mate Chris Keene and Marine Technician John Bitchy. They are supported by Marine Superintendent Michael Richter.

Skidaway Institute scientists cruise Florida’s ‘Big Bend’

December 7, 2010

“It’s a really exciting place to do oceanography, because you can throw almost any kind of instrument over the side, and it will come up with observations that lead to new science,” said Skidaway Institute scientist Catherine Edwards. A former postdoctoral fellow at Florida State University, Edwards describes her recent research cruise to the little-studied “Big Bend” section of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico.

One of Skidaway Institute’s instrument packages is lowered into the water.

In an effort to extend FSU’s coastal ocean observatory in the Florida Big Bend, Edwards deployed two self-contained bottom-mounted sensors that measure temperature, salinity, currents, and how they vary from the seafloor to the surface. The sensor packages are moored on the outer shelf to help Edwards and FSU scientists learn more about how the Gulf wind and tidal currents transport material from the shelf edge to the shore. Edwards was assisted by Austin Todd, a graduate student in physical oceanography at Florida State University.

Catherine Edwards with FSU graduate student Austin Todd and one of the instrument packages.

Many fish are spawned at the shelf break, but spend their juvenile stages in the salt marshes and estuaries. Distances of 50 to 75 miles are too far for fish larvae to swim on their own and physical models, by themselves, do not fully explain how larvae are able make the journey.

“Whether you’re tracking fish larvae or oil, the science question is the same,” Edwards said. “We are trying to develop a clearer picture of how the physics and biology interact.”

Edwards does have an idea. Coastal sea breezes shift on- and off-shore between day and night during spawning season in the Gulf of Mexico. The winds push the surface water in one direction, while deeper waters compensate with currents in the opposite direction.

“Fish larvae don’t swim far horizontally, but they do migrate up and down the water column on day-night cycles fundamentally tied to the timing of the solar cycle and thus sea breeze,” Edwards said. “Depending on the larval migration, they may simply shift their position in the water column to ride the diurnal shifts in the current to shore.”

The cruise wasn’t easy to arrange. Edwards had access to the needed instruments, but no money for ship-time, which often runs thousands to tens of thousands of dollars a day for capable oceanographic vessels. She was able to hitch a ride on a NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) vessel that was conducting a twice-annual cruise to studying fish biology throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

“I’m a physicist by training, so I really enjoyed the chance to ‘play biologist’ for the two week leg of the cruise,” she said. “That interaction was really valuable for planning future work with NMFS scientists.”

Edwards set up two sets of instruments very near a NOAA weather buoy. While the weather buoy collects data on the conditions above the surface, Edwards’ instruments will do the same for the conditions in the water column. Since weather conditions often drive water movement, the ability to combine the two data sets will provide valuable information.

Edwards will return in six months to collect her instrument packages and the data they have recorded.

Skidaway Institute scientists differ with officials over amount of remaining oil

August 20, 2010

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientists Dick Lee and Jay Brandes have been working with other scientists from the University of Georgia and Georgia Sea Grant to ascertain the threat from the remaining oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Their opinions differ significantly from estimates released from the National Incident Command.

They believe as much as 70-79% of the oil that entered the water remains in the water column, an estimate that is much higher than the figure of 25% cited by the NIC.

Their report, released earlier this week, can be found here.

Catherine Edwards joins Skidaway Institute

July 26, 2010

Physical oceanographer Catherine Edwards has joined the faculty of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography as an assistant professor.

Edwards  received both her bachelor’s degree in physics and her doctorate in physical oceanography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Florida State University.

Edwards is a coastal physical oceanographer with research interests in shelf-scale and nearshore processes. Her work includes modeling and observing coastal tidal, wind-forced, and density driven-dynamics, as well as coastal meteorology and air-sea interaction.

Edwards’ current projects include larval transport mechanisms for fisheries in the northeast Gulf of Mexico; the interaction of high frequency winds and currents in the South Atlantic Bight and Gulf of Mexico; tide-correlated eddies near the Gulf Stream; and the processes that transport nutrients and biomass onto the shelf of the South Atlantic Bight.

More on the oil spill and the Atlantic Coast

June 24, 2010

Earlier this month a group of experts from the institutions of the South Atlantic Sea Grant Program gathered at Skidaway Institute for a discussion of the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) oil spill and its potential effect on the Atlantic coast.

Here is an abbreviated summary of their conclusions.

Overall, the panel noted three distinct phenomena that must be considered:

(1) oil released at the Deep Horizon (DH) site and moving within the GoM, (2) oil in various forms that may be “captured” by the Loop Current and then transported into the Gulf Stream, and(3) the potential for oil in its various forms to move in a westerly direction from the Gulf Stream toward our nearshore waters and the southeastern coastline.

The experts agreed that there are some hard realities and major questions that limit even generalizing about the movement of spilled Gulf oil to South Atlantic waters. These include:

* Despite estimates by BP and federal agencies, the amount of oil that has spilled into the GoM is essentially unknown.  The actual volume of oil spilled there will affect the chances of it reaching South Atlantic waters.

*Authorities in the Gulf have no firm grasp as to where spilled oil – in its various forms and concentrations – can be found within the GoM’s water column and geographic expanse.  Where oil lies in the Gulf, and at what depth, could play a substantive role in its entrainment in and movement via the Loop Current.

* It is still highly speculative to pinpoint the location, depth, and amounts of GoM oil that might eventually be captured and transported by the Loop Current over specific periods of time. Understanding the sourcing, amount, and timing of spilled oil bleeding into this major GoM current is critical to understanding the oil’s possible ultimate transport to the southeastern U.S. region.

* Major questions exist about the nature of the spilled oil.  For instance, how much oil has dispersed or has been degraded?  How much will be degraded in coming weeks and months?  And what are the physical and chemical forms that such degraded oil will take (e.g., slicks, tarballs, underwater plumes, diluted at various concentrations, etc.).  Such degraded oil outcomes could affect how spilled oil will move.

At the same time, the panelists agreed that:

* Much is known about how general ocean circulation typically works in the GoM and South Atlantic Bight, due to our knowledge about the GoM’s Loop Current, the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream, and the interrelationship between them. There was unanimous agreement that the Loop Current and Gulf Stream would be the main “conveyor” of the Gulf oil should it move to South Atlantic waters.

* The first major step in any movement of Gulf oil to the South Atlantic would be its entrainment in the GoM’s Loop Current.  In recent weeks, the Loop Current has been “pinched” at its ox-bowed (loop) narrowing, creating an eddy separated from the Loop Current itself. This fluctuation, manifested as a separated eddy, has acted as a barrier to major movement of oil into the Loop Current.  Thus, that action may have prevented and delayed the movement of oil toward the Atlantic.  See an animated depiction of this eddy in relationship to the Loop Current here.

* The separated eddy now present in the Gulf, however, will either drift to the west (which is good), as it will take entrained oil with it, or reconnect to the Loop Current in the near future (not so good); the controlling factors being seasonal weather trends and events and perhaps other factors that are now poorly understood.  A more fully developed Loop Current resulting from re-attachment could reach farther north into the GoM and therefore closer to the spill zone center, likely capturing more oil in various forms and more fully channeling it toward the Florida Straits and possibly the Gulf Stream.

Once within the Loop Current, that oil could move from the GoM to the coastal waters off Cape Hatteras, NC in about a month’s time under typical weather conditions.

* Once oil borne by the Loop Current reaches the southeast end of the Florida peninsula, it then could become captured by the Gulf Steam and move to the north, offshore of the east coasts of FL, GA, SC, and NC.

* The risk of having oil spill residuals come ashore along the southeastern coast would be greatest along the southern portion of Florida’s east coast, due to the close proximity of the Gulf Stream to that shoreline.  Factors affecting the prospects and amounts of oil reaching the shoreline include shearing and eddy effects along the Gulf Stream’s west (inshore) edge, prevailing winds and their speeds, and acute weather events.

* A second area in the South Atlantic that would be at higher risk for oil spill residuals coming ashore is at North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras and neighboring Outer Banks beaches.  Again, this would be mainly driven by proximity of the Gulf Stream to the shore and weather events, but also by onshore eddies and jetting actions caused by interactions of the Gulf Stream near Hatteras with southerly flowing currents of cooler water from the north.

* Shorelines and waters between south Florida and Cape Hatteras also could experience visible oil deposits, diluted concentrations of oil, and other effects.  Manifestations of oil will likely be more highly dependent on acute weather events (significant coastal storms), prevailing wind direction and speeds over set periods of time, and seasonally-related perturbations (e.g., eddies, meanders, “spin-offs”) along the inshore (western) edge of the Gulf Stream.

* Due to the greater width of the continental shelf off of South Carolina, our shoreline and waters are less likely to be impacted by Gulf oil.  Deep hard-bottom reefs and fisheries would be more vulnerable in conjunction with upwelling of deep Gulf Stream waters associated with spin-off eddies, while coastal wetlands and estuaries would be the least vulnerable.

*The expert panel noted that the longer Gulf oil remains at sea, the more likely natural degradation of the oil could take place.  As such, it is possible that oil reaching south Florida waters may be in more visible forms (such as sheens, slugs, and tarballs); while oil that makes it to Hatteras waters may be more diluted and dissolved – and, if conspicuous at all, perhaps only be seen in forms such as water color/turbidity differences, thin oily residues on contact objects, and smaller tarballs.

The summit concluded with a brief discussion of secondary (but highly significant and concerning) effects of oil (and chemicals used as oil dispersants) reaching southeastern U.S. waters, which could include impacts on coastal fish, animal, and aquatic plant health, seafood contamination issues, and compromised coastal ecosystem functioning.  It could take years to observe, document, and experience these adverse effects.  Unfortunately, our coastal observation networks and infrastructure in and along the southeastern U.S. coastal waters and shorelines are currently inadequate to effectively monitor and measure such adverse effects in a timely manner.

As a result of the meeting, the four Sea Grant programs in the South Atlantic region will further develop a regional website regarding Gulf oil spill information, which can be found here.

Oil Spill Information Sources

June 22, 2010

Skidaway Institute scientists assembled this list of Web sites with information on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and it’s potential effect on Georgia.

This is not intended to be a complete list.

Atlantic Sea Grant Site

Links and information for several Atlantic coast states, including Georgia.

The NOAA Office of Response and Restoration (NOAA National Ocean Service) is  providing coordinated scientific weather and biological response services to federal, state and local organizations.

Daily update page:

Includes links to daily forecast trajectory maps – these show plume boundaries but do not represent the underlying surface currents, so not very satisfying from an oceanographic perspective.   As reported on the website, there are regular aircraft surveys (e.g., Coast Guard) to try to document surface slick boundaries.

Also links to a number of other NOAA and other agency web sites that provide spill impact/response information (including the following NWS site).

“GeoPlatform” web site

Online GIS mapping tool developed by NOAA and the University of New Hampshire Coastal Response Research Center.  Lots of information layers can be plotted, including wind, currents and spill trajectory forecasts.

National Weather Service “Deepwater Horizon Decision Support Page”

Marine forecasts in the spill-affected area, links to observations, model forecasts, satellite imagery.  Lots of graphics links.

NASA satellite imagery and information from aircraft sensors

Recent and earlier imagery from NASA satellites and aircraft sensors (e.g., high spectral resolution radiometers) and descriptions of the sensor systems and various survey results.

IOOS Deepwater Horizon web site

Hosted by Rutgers COOL web site.  A number of the Rutgers glider “fleet” have been deployed to the shelf/slope off Louisiana and along the West Florida shelf.  Lots of links to recent glider sections, and other webs sites for models, satellite imagery, surface drifter tracks.

Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA) information pages compiling links to various sources of information on the oil spill:

Hindcast/forecast results from several numerical models. These generally hindcast 1 day and forecast 2-3 days.  Some use recent satellite data (visible imagery, and perhaps synthetic aperture radar, SAR) to update the best guess of the surface oil plume boundaries.

see “Global HYCOM”, “Navy GOM HYCOM”, “SABGOM” model run links.

Satellite imagery using high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), visible imagery (MODIS) and some high resolution photography (SPOT).  Imagery at this web site is acquired and processed by the Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing (CSTARS) group at the University of Miami (RSMAS).  SAR imagery is from Canadian, European and Italian satellites (some being operated by private company/government agency consortia, e.g., the Italian “COSMO-Med”).



ROFFS (Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service, a private firm) isutting together their best estimates of the surface oil plume from satellite SST and ocean color data products overlaid on estimated surface currents.  There was a gap in early June, but it looks like they have resumed regular updates.

Gulf Oil Spill & Georgia Update 6-11-10

June 11, 2010

Dr. Dana Savidge provides the following update on the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current and the Deep Horizon Oil Spill.

At present a Loop Current Ring has separated from the northernmost portion of the Loop Current, and stands between the Deep Horizon well and the Loop Current itself, so that most of the spilled oil has not been entrained into this strong current.  Over time, that ring may reattach and detach several times, and will eventually drift gradually westward in the Gulf of Mexico.  When that happens, the Loop Current may eventually re-extend into the northeastern Gulf, and entrain spilled oil into the Loop Current.

Oil Spill Update — from Baton Rouge

June 3, 2010

Skidaway Institute’s Jay Brandes is attending a conference of scientists discussing the Gulf spill in Baton Rouge, La.  Here is his first report on the meetings.

Dr. Jay Brandes

This morning we had a summary by members of USGS, NOAA and NSF about what is going on in the gulf. In a word, there is a lot going on. NOAA has had surveys, modeling, measurements going on from day one (literally, the first models for spill tracking were started within 12 hours of the rig sinking). Lots of emphasis on understanding the system pre-spill, then moving towards understanding spill effects with that background. 3000 samples collected so far, all types. They all emphasize that it will be decades before the last spill effects are known/remediated.

They understand that there is a lack on information on these activities, and are working on some sort of unified web page to act as an information clearinghouse.