Upcoming webinars explore fate of oil in the marine environment

The good news about marine oil spills—if there is any—is that over the years oil spill responders from the public and private sectors have developed a host of tools and methods at their disposal to clean one up when it happens. But what happens to oil unable to be retrieved through current clean up techniques and technologies? What happens to oil left in the water? Two upcoming Sea Grant webinars address different aspects of this question.

Breaking it down: Oil in the environment will take place on July 14 from 2-3:30 pm CST/3-4:30 EST. Oil is found naturally underground throughout the Gulf of Mexico. While many of the same general chemicals are in all types of oil, each oil is unique and has its own chemical fingerprint that scientists can recognize. These complex mixtures of chemicals transform as they encounter different factors in the marine environment, such as sunlight and air and even tiny microbes that include oil in their diet. Three notable researchers—LSU’s Ed Overton, Georgia Tech’s Joel Kostka, and Woods Hole’s Collin Ward—will present virtually on topics related to oil’s breakdown and transformation in the environment. Louisiana Sea Grant’s Emily Maung-Douglass will moderate a question-answer session with the guest speakers to round out the event.

Florida Sea Grant’s Monica Wilson will host Every snow often oil, microbes, and sediment get together and sink, a seminar focusing on marine snow on July 22 from 1-2:30 pm CST/2-3:30 EST. The Sea Grant publication Microbes and oil: What’s the connection? describes marine snow as a “stringy substance that drifts from the upper reaches of the water down to the seafloor,” consisting of “a mixture of items, including bacteria, dust, phytoplankton, dead animal fragments, plants, and other material.” Sometimes tiny oil droplets can join the falling substance, an occurrence noted by many scientists after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Sea Grant publication Deepwater Horizon: Where did the oil go? explains, “Scientists learned that marine snow trapped the oil, carrying it downward to the seafloor where it accumulated. . . This event has been termed Marine Oil Snow Sedimentation and Flocculent Accumulation (MOSSFA). Scientists believe that MOFFSA-related activities caused some of the oil to accumulate on the seafloor.” At this webinar, speakers Antonietta Quigg of Texas A&M University Galveston, Kai Ziervogel of the University of New Hampshire, and Kendra Daly of the University of South Florida will discuss the processes and environmental impacts related to marine snow and MOFFSA events. All speakers will stay on to answer questions as part of the proceedings.

These two webinars are part of a larger summer series the team is hosting online in place of their regularly schedule seminars. In addition to the topic of oil in the environment, oil spill science specialists are holding sessions that cover oil’s impacts on various aspects of human health and a three-part series on oysters. The team broadcasts all webinars simultaneously on a secure Zoom link and via Facebook Live.  The talks and question/answer sessions are all recorded and shared on gulfseagrant.org along with a large library of publications about oil spill science.

Featured image: Environmental Protection Agency contractor Jeff Bryniarski samples Gulf of Mexico water looking for evidence of oil in 2010. (USEPA/Eric Vance)

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