Saturday 27 May 2017

The Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of the Gulf Ecosystem

A tale of two Gulf spills: A research consortium of 19 institutions from 5 countries studying the impacts of oil spills on the Gulf of Mexico.

C-IMAGE Blog

Whether in the field or in the lab, C-IMAGE highlights the research of our members and our students.

Melissa Rohal, Student of the Month, May 2017

Melissa Rohal, Student of the Month, May 2017

Melissa Rohal, a PhD student at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, is on a mission to stick up for the little guys. They're not as attractive as dolphins or sea turtles, but benthic macrofauna are all the rage in the deep ocean. Small animals like worms, copepods and nematodes fill a key role in the food web and act as indicator species of the health of the ecosystem.

While working on her PhD at the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Melissa works to understand the impacts of oil spills on deep-sea ecosystem services provided by meio- and macro-faunal communities. Her researcher and ability to 'stick up for the little guys' makes her the C-IMAGE Student of the Month for May 2017.

What path did you take to make it to where you are now? Bachelor’s degree, internship experience, working experience?

When I started my education all I knew was that I wanted to study the ocean, so I took a broad approach and entered the Marine Science Program at Coastal Carolina University.  The course work looked at all aspects of oceanography including physical, geological, biological, and chemical.  As I progressed through my degree I took an internship at the Ripley’s aquarium while also helping my professors with research.  From these experiences I discovered that research was what I wanted to pursue.  I was unable to get into graduate school right away so I took a job at the Columbus Zoo helping the keepers in the shores area.

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Xiaoxu Sun, Student of the Month, April 2017

Xiaoxu Sun, Student of the Month, April 2017

Natural oil degrading microbes play a critical role in the ecosystem's response to oil. These bio-degraders are found throughout the Gulf, especially in areas of natural seeps. Different groups of bacteria degrade oil in different stages - first, secondary, and late responders. Their role in cleaning up surface spills is highly studied, but how these degradation processes occur at depth might be quite different.

Xiaoxu Sun, a PhD student at Georgia Institute of Technology School of Biology and Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, designs experiments to test the biodegradation process in high-pressures. By simulating the conditions microbes experience at depth, Xiaoxu can assess the impacts of dispersants on degrading oil. His work makes him the C-IMAGE Student of the Month of April 2017.

What path did you take to make it to where you are now? Bachelors degree, internship experience, working experience?

I obtained my Bachelors’ degree in Environmental Engineering in China. After that, I came to US to pursue my master’s at Michigan State University, where I studied anaerobic degradation of hydrocarbons in groundwater systems including BETX (benzene, Ethylene, Toluene, and Xylene).  I loved my research experiences at MSU and I wanted to know more about bioremediation processes.

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Katelyn Knight, Student of the Month, March 2017

Katelyn Knight, Student of the Month, March 2017

The role of microbial communities during oil spills gets a bit of attention due to their role in biodegradation of oil and dispersants. Since 2010, research have discovered that dispersed oil inhibits growth of certain bacteria strains, and biodegradation occurs in different phases depending on the weathering of the oil. Katelyn Knight looks to make her mark in microbial research with her studies on their community structure in response to changes in the marine environment. Her work at the University of West Florida makes her or C-IMAGE Student of the Month of March 2017.

What path did you take to make it to where you are now? Bachelors degree, internship experience, working experience?

I obtained my Bachelors degree in marine biology at the University of West Alabama. While I attended undergraduate school, I worked in a research lab at the university under one of my professors and also volunteered on multiple graduate students research projects. I also did my own research project studying grass shrimp in the Pensacola Bay as an undergraduate for a research in biology class. This particular experience allowed me to take teachings and lectures in class and put it to practical use in the field.

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Bekka Larson, Student of the Month, February 2017

Bekka Larson, Student of the Month, February 2017

Many of the Students of the Month have been involved in their research for several years, but few have been involved from Gulf spill through recovery. Bekka Larson, a PhD student at the University of South Florida-College of Marine Science, has studied the sediment of the Gulf from the months following the spill in 2010 through today. It is Bekka's persistence and dedication to understanding the Gulf's recovery which makes her our Student of the Month for February 2017.

Bekka started her work with sediments and oil spills as a research technician with Dr. Gregg Brooks at Eckerd College Department of Marine Science, and managed the collection of critical cores during the Deepwater Horizon (DwH) response. Her research uses high-resolution core sampling to analyze how the seafloor environment changes after major events like oil spills. Sediments act as history books for the Gulf's past, and Bekka is turning the page of our understanding of the Gulf.

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Susan Snyder, Student of the Month, November 2016

Susan Snyder, Student of the Month, November 2016

The public often asks "Is Gulf seafood safe to eat after the Deepwater Horizon spill?" Short answer: Yes. So long as we're not eating gallbladders or fish livers. Susan Snyder studies ecotoxicology at the University of South Florida-College of Marine Science where she takes tissues and bile from fish and analyzes the amount of oil in them.  Susan is the C-IMAGE Student of the Month for November 2016!

Susan's research focuses on how sick a fish gets when it is exposed to oil, specifically exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), the larger and more toxic components of oil. Her research on PAH Exposure in Gulf of Mexico Demersal Fishes, Post-Deepwater Horizon in Environmental Science and Technology. 

What is the focus of your research? How will your findings contribute to the overall understanding of oil spills or oil spill response?

I measure polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in fish tissues.  PAHs are the toxic and persistent component of oil.  We measure PAH metabolites in fish bile to get a level of short-term (days) exposure to oil.  The idea behind this method is similar to a urinalysis drug test of a human.  We also measure PAH levels in fish liver and muscle tissue to understand accumulation of these contaminants.  Chronic exposure and accumulation of PAHs is linked with negative health effects in fish, such as liver cancer.

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Listen to our Podcasts

  • #10 The Risks for Fish +

    #10 The Risks for Fish What happened to the fish in the days and weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill? With a suite of Read More
  • #9 Forensic Oceanography +

    Listen to learn how scientists reanalyzed remotely sensed data taken in the late 1970s to study the Ixtoc 1 oil Read More
  • #8 In the Mud in Mexico +

    #8 In the Mud in Mexico “We were of the mind that with studying the Deepwater Horizon in the northern Gulf we weren’t getting a full Read More
  • #7 The Ixtoc Spill: Reflections +

    #7 The Ixtoc Spill: Reflections The Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened just a few years ago, but it might be possible to predict its impact Read More
  • #1 Overview of C-IMAGE +

    #1 Overview of C-IMAGE C-IMAGE PI Dr. Steven Murawski talks to David Levin about the research goals of our center and the importance of Read More
  • #2 Sampling for oil in the sediments in the Gulf of Mexico +

    #2 Sampling for oil in the sediments in the Gulf of Mexico C-IMAGE PI's Steven Murawski and David Hollander on board the Weatherbird II in August of 2012 talking to David Levin Read More
  • #3 The "not-so-visible" impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico +

    #3 The Three years after the BP oil well disaster, scientists are struggling to understand the effects on the Gulf ecosystem. From Read More
  • #4 Fitting the Gulf of Mexico inside a computer: how to build an ecosystem model +

    #4 Fitting the Gulf of Mexico inside a computer: how to build an ecosystem model Mind Open Media's David Levin talks with C-IMAGE members Cameron Ainsworth, Jason Lenes, Michelle Masi and Brian Smith about building Read More
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