The Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – before, during and after the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout

The Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – before, during and after the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout
Oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. (c) ECOGIG

July 01, 2016

ECOGIG recently released a special issue of the journal Deep Sea Research II- this issue includes thirty seven papers that describe various aspects of the Gulf of Mexico's ecology and physics before, during and after the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010.

The following is an excerpt from the first article found in this special issue, written by ECOGIG's Project Director and special issue editor Dr. Samantha Joye- you may find the entire article here, and the entire special issue here.

Since 2010, a community of scientists has worked earnestly to discover and report the impacts of and recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout. This special issue of Deep Sea Research includes thirty-seven papers describing various aspects of Gulf system ecology and physics before, during and after the DWH incident. Relevant papers describing discoveries applicable to Gulf science are also considered. Beginning with a ‘state of the Gulf’ review paper (Joye et al.), papers describing historical data sets relevant to understanding Macondo impacts (Bowles et al., Lloyd et al.) and new methods that will advance Gulf ecosystem science (Edgcomb et al. and Pachiadaki et al.) follow. Conti et al., Garcia-Pineda et al., and Martens et al. provide insight into the geology of natural seeps, patterns of natural seepage in the Mississippi Canyon area, and dynamics of oxygen and methane at natural seeps, respectively.

The understanding of Gulf physical oceanography has improved significantly in six years following the DWH blowout (Cardona and Bracco, Wei et al., Weisberg et al., and Yaremchuk et al.). In particular, the dynamics of movement of the DWH oil deepwater plume (Lindo-Atichati et al.) are much better understood. Cardona et al. describe nutrient distributions in surface waters in light of dynamic physical transport regimes. The Gulf׳s microbial communities responded rapidly to the infusion of oil and gas and many aspects of Gulf microbiology, microbial activity, and plankton dynamics are described by Arnosti et al., Beaudoin et al., McKay et al., Simister et al., Weber et al., Yang et al., Ziervogel and Arnosti, and Ziervogel et al..

The distribution, fate, and dynamics of DWH hydrocarbons are discussed in contributions by Daneshgar-Asl et al., Liu et al., Rosenheim et al., Seidel et al., and Wilson et al. Discoveries regarding mechanisms of marine “oil” snow formation and sedimentation (Passow) and resuspension (Ziervogel et al.) reveal the importance of a fate of oil that was unrecognized at the time of the incident.

Seafloor impacts of the DWH blowout were widespread and included damage to macrofaunal communities (Qu et al.), mesophotic corals (Silva et al.), and deepwater corals (Prouty et al.). The impacts of oil and dispersant exposure on deepwater corals are described by De Leo et al. Seabed sediments were biogeochemically altered by marine oil snow sedimentation, as described by Hastings et al.. Place et al. describe a new method for quantifying dispersant concentrations in seawater. Hu et al. describe a dynamic indicator of oil impacts while Geers et al. describe a new model assessing fisheries dynamics. Together, the papers in this special issue represent significant and remarkable advances in deep sea science, generally, and Gulf Ecosystem science, specifically.

This special issue is dedicated to the memory of the eleven men who lost their lives in the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, Jason Anderson, Aaron Dale Burkeen, Donald Clark, Stephen Ray Curtis, Roy Wyatt Kemp, Karl D. Kleppinger Jr., Gordon L. Jones, Keith Blair Manuel, Dewy A. Revette, Shane M. Roshto, and Adam Weise, and to Dr. Raymond Highsmith, a key figure in organizing and supporting some of the initial academic response cruises to the Macondo Blowout, who died in 2013. Dr. Highsmith was the founding director of one of the original consortium funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative׳s RFP-I grants program, and as such, played a key role in supporting some of the research presented in the special issue.


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