Title: Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: More bad news for the “dead zone?”
(Speaker is Nathaniel Ostrom, a biogeochemist and professor of zoology at Michigan State University, speaking from his East Lansing, Mich., laboratory.)
“We had this unique opportunity to travel to the Gulf of Mexico, which we had scheduled months before the oil spill ever happened. So again, our original intent was not to study the impact of the oil spill, but we realized our study sites were in very close proximity to the region impacted by the spill.
“Therefore we had an opportunity to pursue and ask how the oil itself impacts the development of low oxygen conditions in this region, because historically this region has a tendency to develop low oxygen, or hypoxic, conditions in the spring and summer months and is therefore called the “dead zone” because the low oxygen conditions result in fish kills, or death to shrimp or crabs or whatever.
“So our initial thought once we heard about this spill was that the presence of the oil might actually enhance the development of these low-oxygen, or hypoxic, conditions and in essence make the dead zone worse.”
(Speaker is Ben Kamphuis, an MSU junior zoology major who conducted water sampling on a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico in late May.)
“… and there was the water column, which is what I did, spent all my time doing pretty much, which is a giant rosette thing, you send it down and it analyzes oxygen, salinity and temperature. It comes back up, you pick the depth you want and it collects water at that depth. And then I collected the water in bottles that we analyze back here.
“I had talked to Dr. Ostrom one day about doing research –– actually this fall I’m going to Antarctica to study Lake Vida, which is a completely ice-sealed lake, and he wanted me to get more practice in doing the same techniques I’d be doing …”
(Speaker is Dr. Ostrom)
“It’s really a good example of how science collaboration can work and work on a very tight time-frame, because we initially had the research cruise planned to focus on nitrogen cycling in the coastal Gulf of Mexico, and when the oil spill happened, we realized that the sites were in very close proximity to the source of the oil and likely to be impacted.”
(Speaker is Ben Kamphuis)
“More what I’m realizing is just that up here, it really doesn’t affect us too much, but down there it really affects a ton of people. And I guess I didn’t really realize it before going, but after going on the trip I realized how much we can help people in that area.”
(Speaker is Dr. Ostrom)
“We believe that the oil spill is actually going to enhance the development of low oxygen or anoxic conditions in the dead zone, and we believe that this is going to be a function of the fact that the oil is likely to enhance community respiration, that that oil is going to be degraded by microbial organisms, and when they do that oxygen is consumed.
"The oil is likely to decrease photosynthesis, which is a source of oxygen that might prevent development of the dead zone. And lastly, oil has been shown to change the exchange of gasses across the surface from the atmosphere into the ocean itself, and this is a major source of oxygen to the coastal waters and so the presence of the oil film may actually decrease the supply of oxygen from the atmosphere.
"So all three of those are likely setting up a situation where hypoxia might get worse."
(Produced by Mark Fellows, Michigan State University, University Relations Media Communications)