The dispersant used to remediate the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is more toxic to cold-water corals than the spilled oil, according to a study conducted at Temple University. The study comes on the eve of the spill’s fifth anniversary, April 20th.
In this collaborative study between researchers from Temple and the Pennsylvania State University, the researchers exposed three cold-water coral species from the Gulf to various concentrations of the dispersant and oil from the Deepwater Horizon well. They found that the dispersant is toxic to the corals at lower concentrations than the oil.
The researchers’ findings, “Response of deep-water corals to oil and chemical dispersant exposure,” were published online in the journal Deep-Sea Research II.
Approximately five million barrels of crude oil escaped from the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010, and nearly seven million liters of dispersants—chemical emulsifiers used to break down the oil—were used to clean it up. Normally applied to the water’s surface, the spill marked the first time that dispersants were applied at depth during an oil spill.
“Applying the dispersants at depth was a grand experiment being conducted in real-time,” said Erik Cordes, associate professor of biology at Temple, who has been studying Gulf of Mexico coral communities for more than a decade. “It was a desire to immediately do something about the oil coming out of the well, but they really didn’t know what was going to happen as a result.”
Following the 2010 spill, Cordes and his collaborators discovered several damaged Gulf coral populations that were coated with a dark colored flocculent slime that was found to contain oil from the spill and residues from the dispersants.
“We wanted to know if the damages that had been witnessed could have been caused by the oil, the dispersant itself, or a combination of both,” said Danielle DeLeo, a Temple doctoral student in Cordes’ lab, who was the study’s lead author. “We know that the corals in the Gulf were exposed to all of these different combinations, so we have been trying to determine the toxicity of the oil and the dispersants, and see what their impact would be on the corals.”
The researchers exposed the corals to a range of concentrations for both the dispersant and the oil to determine a lethal dose for each. They were surprised to find that the lethal concentration is much lower for the dispersant, meaning it is more toxic than the oil.
“It doesn’t take as much dispersant to kill a coral as it does oil,” Cordes said, adding that the oil in combination with the dispersant increases the toxicity of the oil.
Using dispersants is supposed to reduce the impact of oil spills on the environment, said Cordes, “but there’s increasing evidence that’s not what’s happening.”
Cordes said that his lab will be carrying out additional studies to try to replicate the concentrations of oil and dispersant that the corals were exposed to during the Gulf oil spill, but this is the first step in determining the toxic levels of dispersants and their impact on the environment. He said their findings could assist in developing future strategies for applying dispersants at oil spills that may be more helpful than harmful to the environment.
In addition to Cordes and DeLeo, the researchers included Iliana Baums and Dannise Ruiz-Ramos of Penn State. The study was funded by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to the “Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf” consortium.
Note: Copies of the study, as well as high-res images, are available to working journalists. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preston Moretz | newswise
Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
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...
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...
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,...
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...
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...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy