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
Study offers new insights on hurricane intensity, pollution transport
As tropical storm Isaac was gaining momentum toward the Mississippi River in August 2012, University of Miami (UM) researchers were dropping instruments from the sky above to study the ocean conditions beneath the storm.
Further assessment needed of dispersants used in response to oil spills
New commentary in Nature Reviews Microbiology by Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia and her colleagues argues for further in-depth assessments of the impacts of dispersants on microorganisms to guide their use in response to future oil spills.
Bacteria the newest tool in detecting environmental damage
The reaction most people have when they hear the word bacteria is rarely a good one.
Bacterial communities can act as precise biosensors of environmental damage
A multidisciplinary group of US-based researchers has shown that the mixture of species found within natural bacterial communities in the environment can accurately predict the presence of contaminants such as uranium, nitrate, and oil.
How oil damages fish hearts: Five years of research since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Scientists with the Ecotoxicology Program at NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle have been working to understand those effects. "Along with our research partners," said Nat Scholz, the scientist who leads the program, "we're investigating the more subtle, lingering, and potentially widespread impacts of oil on the health and survival of fish."
As US assumes Arctic Council chairmanship, new report emphasizes cooperation over conflict
Although the media often portray the Arctic as a new "Great Game" ripe for conflict, a group of international Arctic experts co-chaired by Dartmouth College released recommendations today aimed at preserving the polar north as an area for political and military cooperation, sustainable development and scientific research.
Iowa State, Ames Lab scientists describe protein pumps that allow bacteria to resist drugs
Research teams led by Edward Yu of Iowa State University and the Ames Laboratory have described the structures of two proteins they believe pump antibiotics from bacteria, allowing the bacteria to resist medications.
Let it snow
Five years ago today, the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, scientists have continued to study the effects of the largest environmental disaster in the history of the petroleum industry.
Scientists develop mesh that captures oil -- but lets water through
The unassuming piece of stainless steel mesh in a lab at The Ohio State University doesn't look like a very big deal, but it could make a big difference for future environmental cleanups.
Dispersant used to clean Deepwater Horizon spill more toxic to corals than the oil
The dispersant used to remediate the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is more toxic to cold-water corals than the spilled oil, according to a study conducted at Temple University. The study comes on the eve of the spill's fifth anniversary, April 20th.
More Oil Spill Current Events and Oil Spill News Articles