Study examines the impact of oil contaminated water on tubeworms and brittlestars

February 10, 2020

A new study published by Dauphin Island Sea Lab researchers adds a new layer to understanding how an oil spill could impact marine life.

A diverse community of worms and other marine organisms on the seafloor plays a significant role in nutrient cycling, organic matter burial, and remineralization. The burrowing and feeding activities of these organisms, or bioturbation, helps in the oxygenation of the sediment.

The research team, led by Dr. Kelly Dorgan, conducted a mesocosm experiment to investigate how sublethal levels of oil contamination in seawater may affect animals that live in marine sediments. The mesocosm is a flowthrough facility with tanks large enough to include the elements of field realism, but small enough to control some factors.

The research exposed tube worms and brittlestars to seawater that had been mixed and contaminated with oil but had the oil solids removed. These taxa are abundant in the northern Gulf of Mexico. They are both surface deposit feeders. The tubeworm builds its tube from shell fragments and can move vertically and laterally within the sediment. The tube sits about an inch above the sediment allowing the worm to bend the tube and feed on surface sediments. The brittlestar burrows, positioning its oral disk within an inch of the surface. A brittlestar's arms extend above the surface to collect sediment on tube feet.

To the research team's knowledge, these taxa had not been previously evaluated for responses to hydrocarbon exposure.

Overall, it was determined there was little direct response of sediment animals to oil-contaminated water. It's believed they would be more susceptible to sediment contamination. Notably, the metrics used in this study are broadly applicable to sediment-dwelling animals and could be usefully applied to future exposure studies.

Dorgan and her team introduced a novel method to quantify horizontal bioturbation and believe it will be a helpful tool in understanding how marine animals mix sediments. They measured bioturbation using luminophores, which are fluorescent sediment grains that glow when illuminated. Luminophores have been used to measure vertical bioturbation before; however, in this study, the researchers also estimated horizontal clumping/dispersion using tools from spatial analysis. They found differences in both horizontal and vertical mixing between the two species studied.
-end-
The study, Investigating the sublethal effects of oil exposure on infaunal behavior, bioturbation, and sediment oxygen consumption, is published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series.

Dauphin Island Sea Lab

Related Oil Spill Articles from Brightsurf:

Oil spill clean- up gets doggone hairy
A study investigating sustainable-origin sorbent materials to clean up oil spill disasters has made a surprising discovery.

Political 'oil spill': Polarization is growing stronger and getting stickier
Experts have documented that political polarization is intensifying in the United States.

Oil spill: where and when will it reach the beach? Answers to prevent environmental impacts
When an accident involving oil spills occurs, forecasting the behaviour of the oil slick and understanding in advance where and when it will reach the coastline is crucial to organize an efficient emergency response that is able to limit environmental and economic repercussions.

Chemical herders could impact oil spill cleanup
Oil spills in the ocean can cause devastation to wildlife, so effective cleanup is a top priority.

Study shows continuing impacts of Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Nine years ago tomorrow -- April 20, 2010 -- crude oil began leaking from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig into the Gulf of Mexico in what turned out to be the largest marine oil spill in history.

New report examines the safety of using dispersants in oil spill clean ups
A multi-disciplinary team of scientists has issued a series of findings and recommendations on the safety of using dispersal agents in oil spill clean-up efforts in a report published this month by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

What plants can teach us about oil spill clean-up, microfluidics
For years, scientists have been inspired by nature to innovate solutions to tricky problems, even oil spills -- manmade disasters with devastating environmental and economic consequences.

Top oil spill expert available to discuss new oil spill dispersant research
Internationally recognized oil spill expert, Nancy Kinner, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of New Hampshire is available to discuss new post-Deepwater Horizon (DWH) dispersant research and its use in future oil spill responses.

Gulf spill oil dispersants associated with health symptoms in cleanup workers
Workers who were likely exposed to dispersants while cleaning up the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill experienced a range of health symptoms including cough and wheeze, and skin and eye irritation, according to scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

New view of dispersants used after Deepwater Horizon oil spill
New research has uncovered an added dimension to the decision to inject large amounts of chemical dispersants above the crippled seafloor oil well during the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.

Read More: Oil Spill News and Oil Spill Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.