OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU scientist part of team assessing fish health after Gulf spill

06/08/2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. –  An Oregon State University researcher who leads the Oregon Sea Grant program will take part on a rapid response team studying how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is affecting fish and other marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.

The National Science Foundation announced Friday that the team, including OSU’s Stephen Brandt, will receive $200,000 to support a week-long research cruise this September to collect data about the conditions of fish in the northern Gulf. The new information will be compared with baseline data the team has recorded in multiple cruises of the same region dating back to 2003.

Funds come from the NSF's RAPID program, which supports quick-response research into the effects of natural and man-made disasters and other urgent situations.

Brandt, the director of the Oregon Sea Grant program at OSU, is an oceanographer and freshwater scientist with a long history of studying fish ecology around the world, including the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and the Adriatic Sea. Before coming to OSU in 2009, he was director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Michigan.

He is part of a research team that has conducted seven research cruises in the northern Gulf of Mexico since 2003, collecting detailed data about temperature, salinity, oxygen, phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish, and analyzing the effects of human activity on marine fish ecology.

The result is what Brandt calls “an extremely valuable data set” to compare the possible effects of the BP oil spill on the pelagic ecosystem of the northern Gulf of Mexico. The team also plans to make its historical data available to other Gulf researchers via the NSF's Biological and Chemical Oceanography Database.

“We're proposing to conduct the new cruise in September because that's the same time of year when we conducted our previous studies,” Brandt said. “That will allow us to compare the new data with comparable periods from past years, which should give us a good picture of how the spill is affecting the marine environment.”

The NSF grant will support a seven-day research cruise in early September to conduct high-resolution mapping of hydrography, oxygen, plankton and fish in the northern Gulf, both in the area west of the Mississippi Delta where they can compare results to data gathered in their earlier studies, and also in the region east of the Mississippi, where more oil from the spill is believed to be moving.

Brandt, along with Cynthia Sellinger of OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, and Sarah Kolesar of Oregon Sea Grant, will be responsible for analyzing fish data collected during the cruise. His co-investigators are zooplankton specialists Michael Roman and James J. Pierson of the University of Maryland's Horn Point Laboratory, and plankton ecologist David G. Kimmel of Eastern Carolina University. The team also hopes to employ a number of student research assistants through the NSF's Experience for Undergraduates program.

The cruise would employ the research vessel Pelican, operated by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, as well as a towed unit known as a Scanfish, equipped with sensors that can measure oxygen, chlorophyll, oil and plankton in the water. The researchers also plan to conduct fish and plankton trawls to count marine organisms and sample the fishes' stomach contents, and will coordinate with researchers on other vessels to produce a comprehensive picture of the state of marine life in the north gulf and how it has been affected by the oil spill and recovery efforts.