Gulf of Mexico Shipwreck Study Launches Second Expedition

A multi-disciplinary team of scientists launched the second expedition in the Gulf of Mexico to examine the effects of Deepwater Horizon spill-related oil and dispersant exposure on deepwater shipwrecks and their microbial communities.

The study is part of the National Oceanographic Partnership Program that is sponsored by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), and George Mason University (Mason).

The expedition will return to five shipwrecks examined by the team in March 2014, and plans to investigate up to five additional shipwrecks. Sites are located both within and outside of the spill area, and will be comparatively analyzed to determine if resident microbial communities’ exposure to hydrocarbons and dispersant affects the natural process of wood degradation and metal corrosion in the deepwater marine environment.

Using a Remotely Operated Vehicle, the scientists will collect high-resolution video and photos; sediment, water, biological, and other samples; and retrieve short-term microbiological experiments deployed near the five shipwrecks when they were previously visited. Experiments will also be deployed at the new sites for long-term monitoring purposes.

BOEM’s Environmental Studies Program provides the information needed to predict, assess, and manage impacts from Outer Continental Shelf offshore oil and gas, marine minerals, and renewable energy exploration, development, and production on the human, coastal, and marine environments.

BSEE’s Environmental Enforcement Division ensures that offshore energy development is in compliance with all federal regulations and laws as well as permit requirements issued to offshore operators. The Division conducts compliance reviews as well and field work verifying that the industry is acting in good faith and following the conditions of permit approval.

BOEM and BSEE are required under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, to consider the potential effects of their federally permitted activities on historic properties such as shipwrecks. The bureaus seek to better understand the effects of an oil spill on these historic properties.

The NRL will examine the physical properties of sediment collected near and at a distance from the wrecks to provide information on sedimentation rates, sources, and potential deviations resulting either from the shipwreck’s presence, or oil and/or spill mitigation efforts. NRL is also providing a comprehensive and innovative analysis of corrosion product morphology and mineralogy at shipwreck sites that will be evaluated in conjunction with microbiological studies at NRL and GMU.

Mason’s Microbiome Analysis Center, housed in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy will provide a comparative analysis of sediment, biofilm and coral microbiomes from shipwrecks in analogous physicochemical settings, but with different degrees of spill impact. The work employs biogeochemical analyses and next generation sequencing tools to examine biodiversity, metabolic function and the nature and extent of microbiological responses to spill contaminants in environmental samples and in situ and ex situ experiments. The outcome of this work aims to provide fundamental information on the microbiomes of shipwrecks in the deep ocean.

This National Oceanographic Partnership Program-sponsored study is funded by BOEM through interagency agreements with the NRL and BSEE, a cooperative agreement with Mason’s Department of Environmental Science and Policy, and a contract with C&C Technologies. Other collaborators include Deep Sea Systems International, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, the Joye Research Group at the University of Georgia, Droycon Bioconcepts, Inc., the PAST Foundation and Montana State University.

Press Release, July 22, 2014; Image:

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