Posts Tagged ‘Skidaway Institute of Oceanography’

Skidaway Institute scientist studies hydrothermal vents, undersea volcano

August 22, 2011

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Aron Stubbins joined a research cruise this summer to study hydrothermal vents, but what his fellow scientists found was a recently erupted undersea volcano.

Aron Stubbins

The Axial Seamount is an undersea volcano located about 250 miles off the Oregon coast and is one of the most active and intensely studied seamounts in the world. What makes the event so intriguing is that Bill Chadwick, an Oregon State University geologist, and Scott Nooner, of Columbia University, had forecast the eruption five years before it happened. Their forecast, published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, was based on a series of seafloor pressure measurements that indicated the volcano was inflating and is the first successful forecast of an undersea volcano.

The discovery of the new eruption came on July 28, when Chadwick, Nooner and their colleagues led an expedition to Axial aboard the R/V Atlantis, operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Using “Jason,” a remotely operated robotic vehicle (ROV), they discovered a new lava flow on the seafloor that was not present a year ago. The expedition was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“When eruptions like this occur, a huge amount of heat comes out of the seafloor, the chemistry of seafloor hot springs is changed, and pre-existing vent biological communities are destroyed and new ones form,” Chadwick said. “Some species are only found right after eruptions, so it is a unique opportunity to study them.”

Stubbins was on the cruise to study the dissolved organic matter being released from the hydrothermal vents in the ocean floor with Pamela Rossel from the Max Planck Institute Marine Geochemistry group in Oldenburg, Germany, and David Butterfield from the NOAA Vents program. Funding for Stubbins and Rossel was provided by the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg ( and Max Planck Institute, both in Germany.

“The material from the vents reaches over 300 degrees centigrade,” Stubbins said.

At that temperature, the heat modifies the dissolved organic matter, altering its chemistry and reactivity, and therefore, its fate in the water column.

“These ecosystems are amazing,” Stubbins continued. “They include large worms, snails, fish and shrimp that live thousands of meters below the ocean. All this life is fueled, not by the sun, but by chemicals released from the vents”

The manipulator arm of the ROV Jason prepares to sample the new lava flow that erupted in April 2011 at Axial Seamount, located off the Oregon coast. (photo courtesy of Bill Chadwick, Oregon State University; copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Immediately after an eruption the whole system is in flux, continued Stubbins. Vents in the ocean floor called snow blower vents produce streams of white particles, creating a snow globe effect. These snow blowers are only short lived.

“Getting samples from these ephemeral systems provided us with a novel opportunity to gain new insight into these deep sea ecosystems” said Stubbins.

For Chadwick and Nooner the eruption was vindication for years of hard work. “The acid test in science – whether or not you understand a process in nature – is to try to predict what will happen based on your observations,” Chadwick said. “We have done this and it is extremely satisfying”

For Stubbins and Rossel, the journey of discovery is just beginning. “Nobody knows how much carbon is pumped into the ocean by these snow blowers or the other vents associated with the eruption” Stubbins said. The good fortune of sampling right after a major eruption has provided a unique opportunity to find out.

Back to Alaska!

August 19, 2011

Hello from Barrow, Alaska! This is Victoria Baylor and Zac Tait, members of the Frischer lab at Skidaway Institute. We are here to collect our final summer season samples and perform some experiments. We arrived safely in Barrow on August 11th after spending most of the 10th traveling and spending a night in Anchorage. The trip is so long, that we had to spend the night in Anchorage AK. We stayed at our usual place, the Holiday Inn Express in Anchorage and enjoyed fine dining at Simon & Seaforts. We have to admit the food was exactly spectacular and with a good nights rest we were ready to head off to Barrow on the 11th.

We made it safely to Barrow and were met by Dylan and Glenn Roy, two of the UMIAQ  Logistics personnel, and Rachel Sipler from the Bronk lab at Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS.) The first thing we noticed as we walked off the plane in Barrow, Alaska was all of the snow and ice was gone. The ice was just beginning to melt on the roads at the end of the last trip in May but now the landscape was transformed into a gravelly, boggy mud-puddle. We left with Rachel, then checked into our hut and were surprised that our entire group plus Karl Newyear , Chief Scientist of UMIAQ, would be occupying the same space. That’s 8 people in one hut…..and only one bathroom.  It was our first group housing experience.

Victoria and the "welcome sign"

After getting settled in, we decided to set-up our labs. We pulled all of our supplies down from storage and distributed them to the Barrow Alaska Research Center (BARC ) lab and the Beach freezer cold room. After setting-up, with no more work to do, we did our grocery shopping and returned home to await the arrival of our other team members. That’s when we received the news that Barrow was out of fuel and we were being asked to reserve our fuel as best as possible. We also received the news that due to high winds we would possibly delay our first sampling trip which was scheduled for Thursday morning.  There were two barges on the way to deliver gas but it was uncertain when the gas would be available.  Not having gas was certainly going to put a damper on our sampling plans by boat so we began to think about other options.

Winds were blowing as high as 25-30kts. Winds like those made usually simple tasks like opening and shutting car doors quite the task. So in light of the weather, all we could do at that point was wait and hope for the best. Part of our summer sample collection involves going 30-40 miles from Barrow to collect water from tundral melt pools that haven’t been influenced by civilization. These melt pools contain organic carbon compounds which we hypothesize will stimulate bacterial activity when released into the coastal ocean.  We usually collect this water by travelling away from town by boat but because of the fuel and weather issues, that wasn’t possible.

On Friday & Saturday, we concentrated our efforts on setting up both our BARC lab for RNA extraction and gear cleaning and the Beach freezer cold room where we’d be filtering water for DNA & RNA collection and Zac’s tundra melt-water incubation studies.  As part of his thesis project, Zac is trying to find out if bacteria will be able to “eat” this material and if they do if it would increase their usage of nitrate. Because nitrate is what limits the productivity of the Arctic Ocean (i.e. how much of the green things at the base of the food web can grow) if bacteria start using more of it this could profoundly affect the food web in the Arctic. If the permafrost (frozen tundra) melts with a warming climate it could mean less fish, seals, bears, birds, and whales.

Things went pretty smoothly with setup. We washed all of our supplies and organized our work spaces.  Then, our group met to discuss sampling options in light of the rough weather. We worked closely to try to create some feasible scenarios that would allow for Zac & Rachel to collect tundra melt-water.  After a meeting with the logistics personnel, the option of using ATV’s to collect the tundra water was presented, but we had to wait to see how things would work out with the weather. So to lift our spirits the group went out to eat delicious Chinese food at Sam and Lee’s and caught a few minutes of the first football game of the season. This also happens to be the highest latitude football game played in the world.  The score at half time was Barrow 35 – Away team 0.

Zac caught chugging down his 3rd bowl of chicken egg drop soup.


The Barrow Whalers “Thunder on the Tundra”

By Sunday we got a break in the weather and we were given the green light to go ahead and use the ATV’s to gather tundra water. Rachel, Zac, Lynne, & Marta (Lynn and Marta are also from the Bronk lab at VIMS) all suited up and headed off with Brower to go find some tundra melt-pools.

Our guides for the trip

The  ATV trip was an incredibly a bumpy, yet fun ride. The guide’s idea of a ‘trail’ was simply a general direction across the tundra.   It was hard to compare the terrain on this trip to anything we have encountered. The closest comparison we could think of is: the tundra is like a very rough, frozen ocean, turned to mud. We then rode across this rough landscape at high speeds on ATVs; it was both scary and exhilarating. Needless to say, some ibuprofen and bed-rest were welcomed at the end of that trip. Fortunately, the trip was successful and we were able to get plenty of tundra water containing the high concentration of humic acids that we needed to get our experiments started.

The winds decreased further by Monday so it was decided that we could go on our first sampling trip on the ocean.  At 10 in the morning, we loaded our gear and everyone, with the exception of Victoria  and Marta, headed out. Within 2 hours, the group returned and unfortunately couldn’t go out due to the low tide.  A second attempt was made at 1pm and the boat was launched. While the group was out, the winds picked up again. The decision was made that is was too treacherous to return to the same boat ramp that we left from, so we had to continue around Point Barrow, directly into very high winds and seas to a more sheltered ramp. Several times the boat was airborne after being launched over a 5 or 6 foot swell. We did eventually make it back, but it was a punishing ride. We came back at around 5pm with water samples and told Victoria and Marta about a huge polar bear we’d seen just up on the way back from the boat ramp.

The sampling team (l-r) Rachel, Tara, Lynne, Karie, & Zac

While the group unloaded the boat, Marta and Victoria went to check get some pictures of the Polar Bear. We were later told that there was a serious storm and somehow the polar bear ended up stranded in the ocean and swimming 100nmi to shore. It was huge and completely out of energy after the long swim. We watched the bear, feeling at ease since a bear guide who was armed with a rifle was nearby.  Later, several people from our group witnessed the bear get shot by a local hunter. Rest in peace Polar Bear.

Polar Bear

Back in the Beach freezer cold room, we worked for several hours filtering our waters samples to collect DNA & RNA samples. Zac finally had both humic and seawater to set up his incubations. We worked pretty late but we were quite excited that we were finally able to get samples.

Tuesday was primarily a lab day and we extracted RNA and prepared for the Wednesday’s boat trip.  The other groups worked to process their water samples. We were able to get out again on Wednesday for sampling. So far weather predictions are in our favor and we look forward to having a couple of more sampling trips before the weeks end.

Too Cold To Go – January 24, 2011

January 25, 2011

Marc Frischer continues his account of the challenges of conducting research during the winter on the north coast of Alaska.

Another balmy day in Barrow, as I’m writing it is currently 46 below.

Our day started with a meeting of the full logistical support team.

Discussing ice conditions prior to cancelling Monday's trip

The main issue of discussion was how cold it was and whether it was too cold to go out on the ice.  We had entertained thoughts of setting up our ice camp (2 tents, 3 holes in the ice, generators and propane heaters) today, but by 11:00 when it was still 40 below and after much discussion, our lead ice expert and native elder Charlie Hopson declared it unsafe.

Truly I was relieved.  Besides, the weather forecast is predicting warming through the week and since most of our team hasn’t arrived yet and our first actual sampling trip isn’t until Wednesday,  I decided that we have the luxury of waiting a bit more.

Anyway, Zac and I still have plenty of setting-up to accomplish.  So, instead of a trip on the ice, we spent most of the day continuing to unpack, setting-up our three work areas, and replacing the wiring on our submersible sampling system with Artic grade electrical wire.  Turns out that regular wire easily breaks at temperatures as cold as we’re experiencing.

Zac (r) and Lance Newyear (CPS logistics) rewiring our sampling pump

Later in the afternoon a few of the logistics support team took a ride out to the site to break trail, level the surface where we’ll set up the tents , and to make sure that the site was still suitable for occupation.  The trip went smoothly except that they discovered a crack developing in the sea ice close to shore.  If the ice was to dislodge from the shore there is a chance that our camp (and us with it) could go floating away into the Arctic Ocean.  Needless to say, we are monitoring this crack very carefully.  We shouldn’t forget that just because it is covered in ice, underneath the coastal Arctic ocean is still churning and can be a very treacherous place with strong and often changing water currents.

Meanwhile, Lollie and I took a little trip of our own onto the ice covered tundra to get a clear photograph of the sun’s brief appearance.  The sun was noticeably higher on the horizon today compared to yesterday.

Sunrise, January 24

Later in the evening the next contingent of our research team arrived.  From Tish Yager’s group Tara Connelly and from the Bronk group Quinn Roberts, Rachel Sipler, and Steven Baer.  Now we’re only missing three.  After getting them settled in we called it quits for the day retreating to our rooms to catch-up on other work and getting ready for tomorrow.  Or at least that was what I was going to do until the water went out in the building that the women are staying in.  Since water is delivered by truck to that building and there was nothing to be done until the morning, we quickly gathered some buckets of water from the lab so that they could at least flush the toilet a couple of times during the night.  No showers I’m afraid.

Tomorrow morning we’ll meet again with our support team.  Hopefully we’ll be able to set-up our camp.


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 Marine Science Day a success!

October 18, 2010

We had a beautiful day last Saturday as more than 1,900 visitors converged on our campus for our annual open house,  Skidaway Marine Science Day.

The event featured activities geared for all ages from young children to adults. These included programs, tours, displays and hands-on activities, primarily related to marine science.

Skidaway Marine Science Day was presented Skidaway Institute and our campus partners, including the University of Georgia (UGA) Marine Education Center and Aquarium, the UGA Shellfish Research Laboratory, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary and WSVH Georgia Public Radio.

The Skidaway Institute offered a variety of activities for adults and children, including tours of the Research Vessel Savannah;

R/V Savannah

Visitors in the R/V Savannah's "dry lab."

A crowd on "the bridge."

science displays and talks on current research programs; and hands-on science activities.

Charles Roberston explains a CTD array.

Jay Brandes explains some of the science behind the Gulf oil spill.

The UGA Marine Extension Service Aquarium was be open with no admission fee. In addition, the aquarium education staff offered visitors a full afternoon of activities including science talks, a reptile show, boat tours, touch tanks, and behind-the-scene tours of the aquarium.

The aquarium touch tanks are always popular.

The UGA Shellfish Laboratory provided visitors with displays and information on marine life on the Georgia Coast.

Bagging oyster shells for a good cause can actually be fun.

Children were given the opportunity to help protect the marine environment by bagging oyster shells used for oyster reef restoration projects.

Driving ROVs in the pool.

The staff of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary set up their remotely-operated-vehicle (ROV) in a swimming pool and teach visitors how to “drive” it and pick up objects from the bottom.

WSVH Georgia Public Radio was open for visitors.

Skidaway Institute professor Bill Savidge presented a special program, “The Seven Deadly Sins of Science Fair Projects,” aimed at parents and students involved in science fair projects.

For the second year in a row, Skidaway Marine Science Day was also open to non-campus scientific and environmental groups.

Some children got "up close and personal" with wildlife.

Maybe a little too up-close.

Organizations such as the Georgia Department of  Natural Resources, The Dolphin Project and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center were on-hand to present, information, displays and activities.

The Diamond Terrapin Project brought some of their subjects, which were a big hit with the younger set.

Kids prepare their model plankton for the Plankton Sink-Off.

The Plankton Sink Off is a race to see who can get to the bottom of the tank last.

And what would a festival be without some face painting.

We have a much larger photo gallery on the Skidaway Institute Web site.

Off to Alaska!

August 25, 2010

Professor Marc Frischer and research technician Victoria Baylor are traveling to Point Barrow, Alaska for field work on their project to study the effects of global climate change on the coastal environment there.

Dr. Frischer will be blogging about their adventures. Here is the first report.

Notes from the Arctic — We’re on our way!  August 23 & 24th, 2010.

Today was a travel day.  After months of planning, preparation, ordering supplies, and shipping we’re finally off.  This will be our second sampling trip to Barrow Alaska, the most northern point in the continental US.  Our goal is to collect information concerning the response of the organisms at the very base of the food web (the microbes) to climate change.  Arctic ecosystems are considered to be the most sensitive environments to the effects of climate change.

The journey itself is an adventure.  Victoria Baylor and I left Savannah on Monday August 23,  early in the morning traveling to Atlanta, Minneapolis, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Prudhoe Bay, and finally to Barrow — racking up nearly 5,000 frequent flier miles along the way.

Marc Frischer (right) with friend in Anchorage hotel lobby

It never ceases to amaze me how big our country is and yet, at the same time, how fragile it is. This is certainly one of the great paradoxes of our times.  Amazingly, with the exception of a few minor delays that we’ve all come to expect whenever we travel by air, the trip itself was thankfully uneventful.

Sunset in Anchorage

After arriving in Barrow and being greeted by the rest of our team who had arrived earlier, we spent the next 14 hours readying our equipment and laboratories for the first sampling expedition tomorrow. Our team, in addition to Victoria and myself, includes Debbie Bronk, Quinn Roberts, and Rachel Sipler from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, and Tara Connelly and Karrie Sines from the University of Georgia. Our goal is to sample coastal water just a couple of miles offshore at a standard station we have previously established.  The last time we were here in April, we had to access our site on snow machines and had to drill a hole in the ice to sample the water below.

Now in August, the ice is melted and we’ll be traveling to our site in a small boat charted from a native whaling captain. Currently the temperature in Barrow is in the upper 40’s (F) and, at least for now, sunny. For sure, one thing that really slaps you in the face up here is the extreme climate.

Stay tuned for more, the fun really begins tomorrow!

Marc Frischer

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.

Skidaway scientist Dana Savidge promoted

July 28, 2010

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Dana Savidge has been promoted to associate professor.

Dr. Dana Savidge

A physical oceanographer, Savidge joined Skidaway Institute in 2003 as an assistant professor. Savidge studies Gulf Stream variability and ocean circulation, with projects on the continental shelves of Cape Hatteras, Georgia, and Antarctica. One key component of Savidge’s research is a shore-based radar system that measures surface ocean currents as far as 125 miles off the Georgia coast.

Savidge earned her bachelor’s degree in physics from Hanover College (Indiana) and her master’s degree in geophysics from Georgia Tech. Her doctorate in marine sciences is from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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.