Scientists Examine Issues of Oil Spill Response, Restoration, and Resiliency in Upcoming Conference

Posted Wed, 01/24/2018 - 13:45
Guest Blog By Leslie Smith, Science Communicator for the Consortium for Ocean Leadership
A large group of people standing around talking inside a conference space.
Image courtesy of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. 

Almost eight years have passed since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Following the spill, scientists embarked on an unprecedented effort to better understand the fragile ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico that provide livelihood for so many in the nearby coastal communities.

Has the Gulf of Mexico recovered following the 2010 oil spill? Has new science made it more resilient to future disasters? Are we now more prepared to respond to the next spill? Experts will explore these questions and more at the upcoming 2018 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science (GoMOSES) Conference.

For the last six years, leading scientific experts have met annually at GoMOSES to share their latest research and to tackle larger questions of informing oil spill response best practices, restoring the surrounding ecological and social communities, and creating resilient Gulf communities and ecosystems.

This year’s conference will, for the third time, head to the epicenter of the Deepwater Horizon spill — New Orleans. Check out the conference website for more information.

New to this year, a key element of the conference will be cross-cutting discussions among academics, industry, government agencies, and public interest organizations surrounding the following six topics:

  1. Science for restoration, management, and policy
  2. Science for response
  3. Social and ecological resilience
  4. General ecosystem science: Gulf ecology
  5. Gulf connectivity: physical and chemical interactions
  6. Monitoring, data management, and analysis

The conference will include 24 scientific sessions and seven mini-sessions with 300 oral presentations and 125 poster presentations. For more information, view the online program.

Here are a few notable scientific presentations to check out:

  • Restoration Strategies Following Open Ocean Oil Spills: Potential for Stock Enhancement of Apex Pelagic Fish Species; J. Stieglitz, University of Miami, Miami: Since the 2010 oil spill, though there has been overall a large focus on the restoration of fisheries stocks in the Gulf of Mexico, little of that has been given to fish stock enhancement of larger, high value fish species such as mahi mahi and tuna. Researchers will discuss the challenges of implementing stock enhancement programs for these fish as well as new strategies made possible by advancements in aquaculture and tracking technology.
  • A novel material solution to an old problem: Aerogel fabrics for oil capture and recovery; O. Karatum, Exponent Inc., Pasadena, California: There are many methods to remove oil from the sea surface: you can burn it, break it up with aerial dispersants, or collect it with clothes attached to ship booms. Each method has it costs, benefits, and overall level of efficiency. In the wake of the spill, efforts have focused on new materials to improve the efficiency and economic feasibility of oil collection from the sea surface. In this talk, researchers will discuss their exploration of commercially available aerogels to uptake oil, including oil uptake rates, aerogel reusability, and overall oil recoverability rates.
  • Measuring Social Media Use as a Source of Resilience During and After the Deepwater Horizon Oil SpillT. Chandler, Columbia University, New York: As with other disasters around the world, individuals and communities experiencing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill used social media as a means to share information and to connect with local officials. Researchers will discuss findings from an analysis of over 500,000 Twitter records focused on how communication from the general public was conducted with policymakers, first responders, and public health organizations. Changes in the use of social media over the years following the oil spill will be examined and compared to face-to-face surveys.
  • Health Risk Assessment of Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds and Particulate Matter Emitted from Oily Seawater Treated with Dispersant; N. Afshar-Mohajer, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore: After the 2010 oil spill, there was worry over exposure of nearby communities and response workers to airborne toxic compounds from oil on the sea surface, and the application of chemical dispersants added to this concern. Little was known of the effects of surface dispersants on the emission rates of volatile compounds from oil into the air or of potential airborne toxins from the dispersants themselves. Researchers will discuss emission rates of volatile compounds into the air from crude oil, crude oil mixed with dispersants, and dispersant alone.
  • Recent Advances in Estimating and Measuring Oil Slick ThicknessDr. Lisa DiPinto, Chief Scientist, and George Graettinger, Senior Physical Scientist, both with NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, Oscar Garcia, WaterMapping, and Dr. Robyn Conmy of the U.S. EPA: Characterization of the extent and degree of surface oil during and after an oil spill is a critical part of emergency response and Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) activities. This workshop aims to bring together first responders, researchers from agencies, academia, and oil spill industry who are advancing in situ and remote oil characterization tools and methods.
  • Organizing Monitoring Data from the Bottom Up to Facilitate Answering Big Picture Questions; 

    Michael Peccini, NOAA Restoration Center and other authors: A. S. Jones, E. Weissberger, C. Arthur, N. Etre: The DWH natural resource trustees are undertaking a massive restoration program in the Gulf, applying an ecosystem restoration approach. The Trustees’ Monitoring and Adaptive Management (MAM) work group develops systematic approaches to build monitoring plans, identify restoration objectives, and standardize monitoring parameters. The monitoring data from these projects will inform routine reporting on projects as well as drive overarching synthesis of the Gulf-wide impacts of the restoration program. NOAA’s Damage Assessment Remediation and Restoration Program is gathering and sharing these data through the Data Integration, Visualization, Exploration and Reporting (DIVER) application. To ensure a standard process, the data organization and categorization within the templates is based on the monitoring approaches identified by the MAM. Metadata and supporting documentation are collected for each project. These same data types and templates are relevant to field-based injury assessments, remediation evaluation, and routine monitoring.

  • Managing Deepwater Horizon Restoration Project Information for Reporting and Public Access; Michael Peccini, NOAA Restoration Center and other authors: The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The subsequent 2016 legal settlement initiated a massive restoration effort to address the natural resources injuries caused by the spill. Given the scale of the injury and the volume of restoration projects to be implemented, the DWH Trustee Council is relying on the DIVER (Data Integration, Visualization, Exploration, and Reporting) data management system to collect, aggregate, and distribute detailed restoration project information. This talk will focus on the types of restoration project data being collected and the ways that DIVER is being used to support public access to project information, data queries, reporting, monitoring, and long-term decision making.

  • Accessing Project and Environmental Data and Developing Data Services; Ben Shorr, Nick Eckhardt, Jay Coady: NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration; Michael Peccini, Marti Goss: NOAA Restoration Center and other authors: The DIVER application is a data warehouse containing detailed environmental and project data
    including the majority of Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) data from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill which spans the Gulf of Mexico. The DIVER Explorer query tool was developed to support querying high level environmental data (e.g. Workplan, Dates, Location) and also detailed information including analytical chemistry results, field measurements, and related information including field sampling forms and photographs. The DIVER Explorer query tool has two main ways for users to query data: Guided Queries and a Keyword  Search.

  • Using Common Data Models for Data Integration and Data Queries; Ben Shorr, Nick Eckhardt, Jay Coady: NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration; Michael Peccini, Marti Goss: NOAA Restoration Center and other authors: The DIVER application is a data warehouse and query tool containing detailed environmental and project data including the majority of Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) data from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Now National in scope, the DIVER application was initially created to address the unprecedented scope and magnitude of environmental data generated in response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. NRDA data available in DIVER spans many disciplines and source organizations, and includes analytical and non-analytical sample results, field measurements and observations, toxicity test results,
    oceanographic sampling, photographs, and animal telemetry. The foundation of the DIVER data warehouse is the concept of common data models, which support data integration and querying across diverse datasets. 

Other program highlights include:

A large group of people standing around talking inside a conference space.
Image courtesy of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. 

  • Keynote address by Dr. Geraldine Richmond, University of Oregon: “Mulling over Emulsions:  Interfacial Molecular Structure and Adsorption at Oil-Water Interfaces”

  • Opening plenary panel “The Three R's of Gulf Research: Response, Restoration, and Resilience” will cover the current state of science, how GoMOSES science has contributed to our understanding of the Gulf, and remaining challenges.

  • Northern Gulf of Mexico Marine Mammals: Baselines, Trends, Threats, and New Methodologies;Session Co-Chairs, Brian Balmer, Liza Hernandez, NOAA SE Regional Resource Coordinator, Office of Response and Restoration; Session Proposer, Sandra Ellis: Marine mammals in the northern Gulf of Mexico continue to be exposed to numerous natural and anthropogenic stressors. Developing efficient tools and sampling methodologies for long-term data collection are necessary to fully evaluate these current and future threats. The data collected from these projects are key for management agencies to identify and implement effective restoration strategies.

  • Oil Spill Modeling from Droplet Formation to Risk AssessmentSession Chair, Dr. Chris Barker, NOAA Oceanographer: This session includes numerical model development, implementation and verification from the well to the shoreline, including dispersant application. Oil droplet formation, breakup and transport are fundamental processes addressed. Ocean mesoscale transport field experiment results and Arctic oil transport and risk analysis are also included.

  • Gulf-Wide Research mini-session presentation by Chair, Dave Westerholm, director, NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration.

  • The GOMOSES Tools Café! A large number of tools and platforms have been developed to support scientific efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. The Tools Café will permit developers time to give hands on demonstration of tools/applications for potential users

  • Closing plenary will feature awards for excellence in research and a panel discussion led by Laura Bowie, Executive Director of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance on the future of the conference.

GoMOSES is made possible by the generous support of many organizations, including Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative; Harte Research Institute; and Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative.

GoMOSES is organized by a diverse group of partners, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The NOAA representative, Dave Westerholm, currently serves as the chair of the executive/steering committee.

For more information, visit the conference website ( and follow us on Facebook (@gulfscienceconference) and Twitter (@Gulf Conference, #GoMOSES).

We look forward to seeing you in New Orleans!