July 22, 2012
12-187

Malynda Dorsey
Communications Specialist

Biology Professor Studies Effects of BP Oil Spill

VALDOSTA -- The 2010 explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling site and the subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico proved to be deadly and costly. The oil spill also uncovered a lack of information regarding how such spills might affect the Gulf’s marine ecosystem. Valdosta State University biology professor Dr. James Nienow is part of a team of researchers and scholars trying to identify the impact of oil spills on the food chain.

Nienow studies the microalgae, specifically diatoms, dinoflagellates and related protists, in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Microalgae sit at the base of the food chain -- serving as the primary source of food for many small animals found in aquatic systems. The study examines how these organisms fit into the system, so that in the future we may be able to better predict how oil will affect the microalgae, both positively or negatively.

“If the microalgae -- the base of food -- is affected, then so are the fish that eat it as well as the animals that eat the fish,” said Nienow. “We are trying to look at this on a comprehensive level to see what is really going on.”
For the past two years, Nienow has taken monthly cruises along the Gulf, starting at the bays and eventually ending up about 50 miles offshore. He is usually accompanied graduate and/or undergraduate students from Valdosta State who are assisting with the project.

Nienow’s research is currently funded through a $217,612 subaward from Florida State University as part of the Deep C: Deep Sea to Coast Connectivity in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico project. This project, funded by the BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, is a collaborative effort of several academic institutions to determine the biological, physical and chemical state of the Gulf following the release of crude oil and gas.

The findings will shed light on future changes in the ecosystem as well as potential socioeconomic consequences. The Deep-C project includes five main areas of research: modeling, geochemistry, ecology, physical oceanography and geomorphology and habitat classification.

The BP oil spill is a direct result of the April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig. As a result of the explosion, 11 workers were killed and 16 workers were severely injured. The explosion also caused the rig to sink to the Gulf floor, releasing large amounts petroleum hydrocarbon. The oil spill continued for three months and is considered the largest spill in history.

For more information about the Deep-C project visit deep-c.org or contact Nienow at jnienow@valdosta.edu .