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USF College of Marine Science Awarded $20 Million For Gulf Oil Spill Research

Nov 14, 2014

The University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science announced late Friday it has been awarded a $20.2 million grant by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. The money will be used to continue the school's studies of the ongoing effects of the 2010 BP oil spill, which became the largest spill in the nation's history.

USF biological oceanographer Steven Murawski is the principal investigator for the C-Image study, which examines the impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. Murawski, here in a 2012 research cruise, specifically studies the impact of the spill on fish
Credit USF photo

USF officials say the award is the largest single grant for USF for its research on the spill. The disaster began in the weeks immediately after the Deepwater Horizon blowout that killed 11 people and over 87 days later spewed nearly 5 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico.

USF marine researchers working with the Florida Institute of Oceanography - which is based at the St. Petersburg campus - were among the first scientists to begin documenting the spill and played a key role in understanding its dynamics in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Much of the research took place on the Institute's research vessels, R/V Weatherbird II and R/V Bellows.

“We are very proud of the tremendous scientific work done by the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science and our partner institutions to understand the impact of this disaster from the very first days,” said USF President Judy Genshaft in a press release. “This large grant by Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative affirms the leadership of USF scientists, who bring world-class scientific expertise, state-of-the-art instrumentation and facilities, and strong international collaborations to the table to better understand the long-term impacts of the spill.”

Here's some details from USF's web site:

The three-year project will continue efforts to determine the fate of oil in the environment, monitor the impacts of the spill and document ecosystem recovery. Researchers also are focusing on using lessons from the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon spill to improving response to future oil spills.

The project encompasses understanding how the spill impacted all levels of the complex Gulf of Mexico food web, where USF-led studies have found that the mixture of oil and dispersants caused genetic mutations at the base of the food web and also could be found in the bodies of sickened fish more than a year later.

USF College of Marine Science Dean Jackie Dixon aboard the R/V Weatherbird II during a 2012 Gulf oil spill research cruise
Credit USF photo

"Data, analyses and models of the fate and effects of the Deepwater Horizon and similar oil spills will enable the nation and the world to be better prepared in the advent of a similar oil well blowout,” said College of Marine Science Dean Jackie Dixon. “Studies completed under this grant will help to design more effective oil spill prevention and response strategies. They will also provide a contamination baseline from which all future spills in the Gulf of Mexico can be judged.”

The grant will support the efforts over the next three years by professors, post-doctoral scholars and students at 19 collaborating institutions, in five countries including Mexico, the Netherlands, Germany and Canada. The effort, dubbed C-IMAGE (Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems) consortium was originally established at USF in 2012 to conduct studies on the oil spill after the well blowout was capped.

In addition to USF, the other institutions involved in C-IMAGE include: the Florida Institute of Oceanography, Eckerd College, the University of Miami, Florida State University, Georgia Tech, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Technical University of Hamburg at Harburg (Germany), the Harte Research Institute (Texas), Mote Marine Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M, the University of Calgary (Canada), the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (Mexico City), the University of South Alabama, the University of West Florida, and Wageningen University (the Netherlands).

The C-IMAGE principal investigator is Steven Murawski, who holds the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership – Peter Betzer Endowed Chair of Biological Oceanography, and whose work has focused on the health of key fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico following the spill.

More information on C-IMAGE can be found at: http://www.marine.usf.edu/c-image/