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Researchers call for a new direction in oil spill research

Understanding oil movement at depth, microbial action, and deep sea ecology will be essential for responding to future spills

Inadequate knowledge about the effects of deepwater oil well blowouts such as the Deepwater Horizon event of 2010 threatens scientists' ability to help manage and assess comparable events in future, according to an article that a multi-author group of specialists will publish in the May issue of BioScience.

Even federal "rapid response" grants awarded to study the Deepwater Horizon event were far more focused on near-surface effects than on the deepwater processes that the BioScience authors judge to be most in need of more research.

The article, by a team led by Charles H. Peterson of the University of North Carolina, argues that a fundamentally new approach to the study of deepwater oil spills is needed. Previous research has focused mainly on effects on organisms found near the sea surface and on coasts. The new approach would also stress how oil and associated gas released at depth move through the sea and affect subsurface and bottom-dwelling organisms. The new approach is all the more important because the oil industry is now putting most of its exploration efforts into deep water.

Peterson and his colleagues point out that existing policies and legislation have notably failed to provide for research initiated promptly after a spill has been detected. This has prevented studies that might have guided emergency response procedures two years ago, in particular studies of the effects of chemical dispersants. These were used extensively while the Deepwater Horizon spill was in progress, although there is little consensus on their effectiveness.

There remain "serious gaps" in background information needed for longer-term assessments of comparable spills, according to Peterson and his coauthors. Much more information is needed about deep-sea ecology and the processes by which oil released at depth is degraded by microbes, for example. The gaps impede not only litigation and improvement of government policy, but also attempts to restore damaged ecosystems

BioScience, published monthly, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS; BioScience is a forum for integrating the life sciences that publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles. The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is a meta-level organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents nearly 160 member societies and organizations. The article by Peterson and colleagues is available for the remainder of April online ahead of print at

The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the May 2012 issue of BioScience is as follows.

A Tale of Two Spills: Novel Science and Policy Implications of an Emerging New Oil Spill Model.

Charles H. Peterson, Sean S. Anderson, Gary N. Cherr, Richard F. Ambrose, Shelly Anghera, Steven Bay, Michael Blum, Robert Condon, Thomas A. Dean, Monty Graham, Michael Guzy, Stephanie Hampton, Samantha Joye, John Lambrinos, Bruce Mate, Douglas Meffert, Sean P. Powers, Ponisseril Somasundaran, Robert B. Spies, Caz M. Taylor, Ronald Tjeerdema, and E. Eric Adams

Rethinking the Origin of Chronic Diseases.
Mohammadali M. Shoja, R. Shane Tubbs, Alireza Ghaffari, Marios Loukas, and Paul S. Agutter
Prospects for Sustainable Logging in Tropical Forest.
Barbara L. Zimmerman and Cyril F. Kormos
Energy and Matter: Differences in Discourse in Physical and Biological Sciences Can Be Confusing for Introductory Biology Students.

Laurel M. Hartley, Jennifer Momsen, April Maskiewicz, and Charlene D'Avanzo

Studying Biodiversity: Is a New Paradigm Really Needed?
James D. Nichols, Evan Cooch, Jonathan M. Nichols, and John R. Sauer
Finding Common Ground for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
Belinda Reyers, Stephen Polasky, Heather Tallis, Harold A. Mooney, and Anne Larigauderie
Why Ecosystem-Based Management May Fail without Changes to Tool Development and Financing.

Corrie Curtice, Daniel C. Dunn, Jason J. Roberts, Sarah D. Carr, and Patrick N. Halpin

Jennifer Williams | EurekAlert!
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