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Oil in the Water: the spill in the Gulf and the potential future impact May 2, 2010

Posted by Colleen in Ecology, Environment/Conservation.

Trying to loop off the oil spill from the Lousiana rig explosion

Most of us have heard about the massive oil spill that occurred on April 20th in the Gulf of Mexico when an oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers. It is estimated that at least 1.6 million gallons have leaked into the waters of the gulf. The oil has now officially claimed its first victim, according to an LA News Monitor online story, a Northern Gannet seabird. This death means that the oil has officially started to impact the surrounding environment.

Waterfowl covered with oil during the Exxon-Valdez oil spill

Unfortunately, down the road this could mean bad things for the organisms of the Gulf of Mexico. According to a Science Daily article, the oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill is still affecting the wildlife of Alaska even after over 20 years has passed. This disaster spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil over 1300 square miles. After all of this time some of the organisms, especially the near-shore ones, continue to ingest the residual oil. A group of scientists testing the continued impact of the oil looked at the harlequin duck as an example of a near-shore species. They used biomarker CYP1A, which is induced upon exposure to crude oil, to measure the continued impact. This biomarker was in higher abundance in the harlequin ducks,  strongly suggesting that the oil continues to have an effect on the area where the disaster happened over 20 years ago.

This could mean that many years down the road, the Gulf of Mexico could still be seeing the effects of this oil disaster. The hope for me, I suppose, is that technology has improved enough over the past 20 years to have clean-up equipment that works more efficiently and effectively than it has in the past.

Click on first search result here for pdf of the Harlequin duck CYP1A paper.

current size and spread of spill

satellite image of spill...it's huge!


1. Dr. O - May 2, 2010

That CYP1A study is so amazing! Thanks for covering that!

2. Dr. O - May 4, 2010
3. The spill from space « MU Science Blog - May 4, 2010

[…] Click here for an earlier post discussing the long-term environmental toll oil spills can have. […]

4. Joan - June 6, 2010

Hi Colleen and Dr. O.! It’s horrible to see what is happening to the wildlife and marshes of the Gulf, not to mention the oil now washing onshore on the beaches. On CNN they mentioned that the coral reefs of the Gulf will be affected, as well as the small organisms (plankton) in the food chain. I cannot attempt to even comprehend what this has done and will do to the Gulf environment. I live in PA west of Philly and saw computer models of the path the oil would take to come into the Atlantic Ocean.

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