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 How does the loss of species alter ecosystems?
18.05.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

nachricht Excess diesel emissions bring global health & environmental impacts
16.05.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

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: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>