Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Assessing impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

11.07.2013
Comprehensive Assessments of Deepwater Horizon Spill and Restoration Plans Need to Include Social and Economic Effects, Report Says

While numerous studies are under way to determine the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico, the extent and severity of these impacts and the value of the resulting losses cannot fully be measured without considering the goods and services provided by the Gulf, says a new report from the National Research Council. The congressionally mandated report offers an approach that could establish a more comprehensive understanding of the impacts and help inform options for restoration activities.

Currently, state and federal resource managers tasked with providing timely assessments of the damage use a process called the Natural Resources Damage Assessment, which is authorized under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and measures impacts in ecological terms such as the number of fish killed or acres of wetland destroyed. As a result, restoration activities usually focus on replacing individual resources. But the impacts of environmental damage extend beyond individual resources, the report says.

The people who live and work in the Gulf region depend on ecosystems for services such as food and fuel, flood and storm protection, and tourism and recreation. Damage to natural resources could impair these services, leading to social and economic impacts that may not be apparent from an assessment of environmental damage alone. In a 2011 interim report, the authoring committee introduced the concept of an ecosystem services approach to damage assessment, which requires an understanding of the environmental impacts from a disruption, the resulting decrease in goods and services, and the cost of those losses to individual communities and society at large.

In the final report, the committee illustrated how this approach might be applied to coastal wetlands, fisheries, marine mammals, and the deep sea -- each of which provide key ecosystem services in the Gulf -- and identified substantial differences among these case studies. For example, the amount and quality of available baseline data varies significantly among these ecosystem services. The case studies also demonstrate that some services are more easily monetized than others.

Coastal wetlands. Approximately 1,100 linear miles of coastal wetland were affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In areas where roots survived the impact, little to no long-term impairment is expected. However, where the oil destroyed vegetation and root systems, sediment erosion converted the marshland to open water. Since storm mitigation is directly related to the total area of wetlands, the change in area is the most practical measurement of change in ecosystem services. The service can be valued in monetary terms by estimating the cost of storm damage that would be incurred in the absence of the wetlands.

Fisheries. Fishery closures decreased commercial production by 20 percent, which created an immediate economic hardship for fishermen. The spill also triggered public concerns regarding the safety of Gulf seafood. Productivity of the fish populations could be impacted by the spill's toxic effects on reproduction and development, which may take years or decades to determine. Although certain fisheries may experience persistent impacts, others have already shown signs of recovery. The economic value of fisheries as an ecosystem service can be calculated using data on market prices, harvest yields, and production costs.

Marine mammals. Dolphins provide scientific, cultural, and recreational services in the Gulf of Mexico. Beginning before the oil spill in February 2010 through December 2012, 817 bottlenose dolphin deaths were documented, compared with about 100 per year between 2002 and 2009. Because some dead dolphins were likely not found and not reported, these figures underestimate actual mortality. However, uncertainty regarding the abundance of dolphins and the range of environmental stressors that affect them complicate the assessment of the true impact of the oil spill on their populations and the ecosystem services they provide.

Deep sea. The deep sea is the largest yet least well-understood region of the Gulf, making it difficult to assess the full impact of the oil spill on ecosystem services. Among the services derived from the deep sea are pollution attenuation by hydrocarbon-degrading microbes, and nutrient recycling, which supports much of the marine biodiversity at all depths in the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition, the committee evaluated a suite of technologies used in the spill response. Techniques applied offshore, including burning, skimming, and chemical dispersants, reduced the volume of oil by as much as 40 percent before it reached shore, while those applied near or onshore were comparatively less effective and more expensive. But the unprecedented scale at which these techniques were applied leaves the long-term impacts on ecosystem services to be determined, the report says.

Lack of data on the ecological conditions of the Gulf before the spill and an incomplete understanding of complex ecosystem interactions make establishing the full scope of damage difficult. Capturing the entire range of impacts will also require more data on human and economic factors, as well as the development of models that can describe the complex dynamics of ecosystem interactions and better inform decision makers. The report emphasizes that many services may have enormous value despite being difficult to measure, and that such services should be given adequate consideration in evaluating restoration options.

The study was sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. For more information, visit http://national-academies.org. A committee roster follows.

Contacts: Lauren Rugani, Media Relations Officer
Chelsea Dickson, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail news@nas.edu
http://national-academies.org/newsroom
Twitter: @NAS_news and @NASciences
RSS feed: http://www.nationalacademies.org/rss/index.html
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalacademyofsciences/sets

Lauren Rugani | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nas.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>