UL will share in $13 million as one of the principal investigators (PI) in a multi-institution 3-year grant led by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON). The PIs for the grant comprise 26 scholars from 12 institutions, including LUMCON, UL, Louisiana State University, the LSU AgCenter, and 8 other institutions.  The LUMCON proposal was one of eight programs funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative in a peer-reviewed competition for funds.

The grant, “The Effects of the Macondo Oil Spill on Coastal Ecosystems’ funds research to address the impacts of the oil, dispersed oil, and dispersant on the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico. The general aim is to improve fundamental understanding of the dynamics of such events and the associated environmental stresses and public health implications.

The fundamental goal is to improve society’s ability to understand respond to, and mitigate, the impacts of petroleum pollution and related stressors of the marine and coastal ecosystems, with an emphasis on the Gulf of Mexico region. The award was predicated on the involvement of long-term pre-impact sampling by the member institutions of the Dead Zone and Louisiana coastal estuaries, and the only NSF supported academic research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico, which is administered out of LUMCON. A strong educational outreach, communication and scientific staff rounded out the proposal. The funds are from the ten-year $500 million academic research fund established by BP, as a result of the tragic 2010 Macondo oil spill event.

The research consortium includes 26 Principal Investigators with 500+ years of research experience in coastal systems. Besides LUMCON, UL, LSU, and the LSU AgCenter, other institutions represented are Rutgers University, the University of Maryland, the University of Tennessee, Brigham Young University, Connecticut College, Florida Gulf Coast University, the Ecosystems Center of the Marine Biological Laboratory, and Virginia Institute of Marine Science of the College of William and Mary. Most of the collaborators have worked with each other before this project and have been studying the impacts of the DWH event since it happened.

The LUMCON-led consortium brings substantial data collected before the DWH spill to the analysis. Half the PIs are involved in the multi-agency funding (NSF, NGI, BP-funded University Initiatives, Sea Grant) that this proposal evolved from. The PIs coordinated three large-scale sampling efforts in Louisiana coastal marshes in Breton Sound, Barataria Bay and Terrebonne Bay, including a May 2010 field effort that took place just before the landfall of oil, with 125 wetland sites throughout the affected areas and hundreds of water and sediment samples taken for oil analysis (fingerprinting). The offshore component was studied prior to and during the oil spill for coastal components of phytoplankton, periods of hypoxia (low oxygen, i.e. ‘Dead Zone’), and offshore rock reefs.

The work will include effects of stressors on aquatic and wetland soils, marsh plants, insects/spiders, fish, birds, commercial fisheries, and selected mollusk species found in the marsh and pelagic characteristics of adjacent open waters. We also measure changes in the quantity and quality of hydrocarbons as they degrade, alter soil stability, and enter food webs via primary consumers, if marsh erosion is enhanced, indices of avian communities change, and benthic organism adaptation. Integrative measures of oil-induced changes in benthic communities and surrogate measures like oxygen concentrations will be quantified. The goal is to provide a benchmark study in ecosystem change analysis, to identify precursors to ecosystem trajectories before alternative states are realized, and to address societal concerns about wetland stability, and how the oil spill may have affected oxygen concentrations and planktonic and benthic communities.

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