Publications Articles with Category: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill


Science in a Time of Crisis

May 9, 2011
Restivo J, Cojanu D, Science in the Time of Crisis, WHOI May 2011

Science in a Time of Crisis is a multimedia presentation featuring scientists and engineers who continued the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution legacy of oil spill research by providing an objective insight into the immediate and potential impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

On April 20, 2010, an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and unleashed the largest accidental marine oil spill in history.

Soon after the accident, WHOI administrators and investigators were among those called by BP and the federal government for advice and assistance. What technologies might be used to determine why the blowout preventer failed? How much oil was flowing from the wellhead nearly a mile deep? Where was the oil going? And how would it affect fragile Gulf ecosystems?

WHOI personnel quickly marshaled their resources. They had two clear strengths: a wealth of knowledge about oil in the marine environment, and a long history of workin g in the deep ocean.

Even before the flow of oil stopped, it was clear the Institution had far more to offer. The scientists and engineers, steeped in a collaborative, can-do research environment, were well positioned to find creative solutions to difficult problems. Some expanded existing lines of inquiry; others applied tools and techniques in ways they hadn’t anticipated before the spill. Science in a Time of Crisis highlights a few of their stories.

Chapter one: Oil Spill Pioneers describes WHOI’s four decades of experience studying oil spills.

Chapter two: How Much Oil? describes efforts by WHOI scientists to provide the most accurate estimates of the amount of oil and gas that was entering the water from the ruptured well.

Chapter three: Sampling the Source describes successful efforts by WHOI scientists to obtain the only samples of oil and gas directly from the broken riser pipe and blow-out preventer and return them to the surface at pressure.

Chapter four: Searching for the Plume describes a research cruise aboard the R/V Endeavor on which WHOI scientists found and mapped a plume of hydrocarbons beneath the surface of the Gulf using the autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry fitted a compact mass spectrometer. The group also looked for signs that microbial action was depleting oxygen in the water, but were able to document that oxygen levels remained within normal ranges.

Chapter five: Tracking the Currents follows work by WHOI’s Breck Owens to deploy an autonomous underwater glider to map and monitor currents in the Gulf immediately after the spill and throughout the summer.

Chapter six: Assessing the Impacts describes a range of additional work by WHOI scientists in the months after the spill, including research to track potential biological impacts in the Gulf, the persistence of dispersants in the water, and a trip by scientists aboard the submersible Alvin and autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry to survey deep-water coral communities near the site of the ruptured well.