University of Houston study shows BP oil spill hurt marshes, but recovery possibleMarch 08, 2012
Crabs, insects and spiders living in coastal salt marshes affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster were damaged by the massive oil spill but were able to recover within a year if their host plants remained healthy, according to a University of Houston study published Wednesday (March 7) in the open access journal PLoS ONE.
In one of the first studies to look at how oil spills affect salt marsh arthropods, Brittany McCall, a UH graduate student, and biology professor Steven Pennings, her adviser, sampled terrestrial arthropods and marine invertebrates at the time of the oil spill, as well as a year later.
The April 2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon resulted in a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that washed ashore, damaging a number of coastal areas. McCall and Pennings received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study some of the coastal salt marshes affected by the spill. They gathered samples in areas where relatively low levels of oil were present but the plants still appeared healthy and undamaged. They found that in these areas, the numbers of crabs, insects and spiders were reduced by up to 50 percent because of the oil exposure.
"This study demonstrates that appearances can be deceiving," Pennings said. "Arthropods are quite vulnerable to oil exposure. These results are very important because they show that we can't assume that the marsh is healthy just because the plants are still alive."
However, the fact that some plant life remained intact in these areas apparently was key to how the arthropods recovered. When the UH researchers sampled the same areas a year later, all three groups appeared to have recovered, suggesting that arthropods affected by oil may recover if their host plants remain healthy.
"Salt marshes are commonly disturbed by natural events and, as a result, they may be able to also recover from oil spills if the oil disturbance is not too large," Pennings said.
Oil spills pose a major threat to coastal wetlands, but the exact environmental costs are difficult to measure because experiments cannot replicate large environmental catastrophes.
Because each oil spill is different, McCall and Pennings cautioned against extrapolating their results to all oil spills.
"The effect of oil on the marsh is likely to vary depending on how much oil gets ashore and how much it has weathered," McCall said. "In the case of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the marshes may have dodged a bullet because relatively little oil made it into the marshes, and the oil had weathered for several weeks."
University of Houston
Related Oil Spill Current Events and Oil Spill News Articles
Where did the missing oil go? New FSU study says some is sitting on the Gulf floor
After 200 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the government and BP cleanup crews mysteriously had trouble locating all of it.
Warmer Pacific Ocean could release millions of tons of seafloor methane
Off the West Coast of the United States, methane gas is trapped in frozen layers below the seafloor. New research from the University of Washington shows that water at intermediate depths is warming enough to cause these carbon deposits to melt, releasing methane into the sediments and surrounding water.
Exxon Valdez 2014: Does media coverage of manmade disasters contribute to consumer complacency?
Twenty-five years ago, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound. Americans found themselves cleaning up another giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
NJIT researchers working to safeguard the shoreline
An NJIT research team has estimated the total mass of oil that reached the Gulf of Mexico shore in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout.
Study at Deepwater Horizon spill site finds key to tracking pollutants
A new study of the ocean circulation patterns at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill reveals the significant role small-scale ocean currents play in the spread of pollutants.
The immediate aftermath of an oil spill
The immediate aftermath of an oil spill The fate of oil during the first day after an accidental oil spill is still poorly understood, with researchers often arriving on the scene only after several days.
Gulf oil spill researcher: Bacteria ate some toxins, but worst remain
A Florida State University researcher found that bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico consumed many of the toxic components of the oil released during the Deepwater Horizon spill in the months after the spill, but not the most toxic contaminants.
Dispersant from Deepwater Horizon Spill Found to Persist in the Environment
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest accidental release of oil into the ocean, with approximately 210 million gallons gushing from the blown out well.
Separating finely mixed oil and water
Whenever there is a major spill of oil into water, the two tend to mix into a suspension of tiny droplets, called an emulsion, that is extremely hard to separate - and that can cause severe damage to ecosystems.
Scientists identify Deepwater Horizon Oil on shore even years later, after most has degraded
Years after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil spill, oil continues to wash ashore as oil-soaked "sand patties," persists in salt marshes abutting the Gulf of Mexico, and questions remain about how much oil has been deposited on the seafloor. Scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences have developed a unique way to fingerprint oil, even after most of it has degraded, and to assess how it changes over time.
More Oil Spill Current Events and Oil Spill News Articles