Friday 23 February 2018

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.


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

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.

This research is very important because we are generating a baseline of PAH contamination in multiple fish species around the entire Gulf of Mexico continental shelf.  We have sampled thousands of individual fish from dozens of important species (e.g. snappers, groupers, tilefish) from the West Florida Shelf, the Deepwater Horizon area, the Texas coast and the entire Mexican coastline.  These data will be critical in assessing impacts of the next oil spill.  In addition, other C-IMAGE researchers are studying negative health impacts in the same individuals I am measuring contaminants in.  We plan to correlate our data to see if PAH load links with increased occurrence of negative health effects.


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

Growing up, my parents pushed me towards science and a career in health care.  I enjoyed science and developed an interest in chemicals inside the body.  So, my plan was an undergraduate degree in science and to attend pharmacy school.  I received a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Chemistry from the State University of New York at Geneseo.  Along the way, I took a few study abroad trips and a Toxicology class that made me realize I wanted to pursue the field of Environmental Toxicology.  My last year at Geneseo I joined a lab and worked on my first scientific research project.  After graduation, I came to the University of South Florida to begin my master’s degree in Marine Resource Assessment.  After completing my master’s degree, I continued in the USF PhD program to continue my research.

What initially interested you in working at USF-Marine Science?

I came to the USF College of Marine Science because Dr. Steve Murawski had just received the C-IMAGE-I grant and was looking for graduate students to work on the project.  I was thrilled to learn he was in need of students to study impacts of the Deepwater Horizon blowout on Gulf of Mexico fishes.

What research tasks are you completing this week (or this month)? 

Currently, I am measuring PAHs in golden tilefish liver tissue.  Every day for the next few months I am in the lab extracting our chemicals of interest from the liver tissue, running the samples on our new Agilent GC-MS/MS and interpreting the output.  Today, I have golden tilefish livers sampled in 2016 from the Mexican Bay of Campeche on the instrument.  I have thousands of livers and chromatograms to process in the next few years.

Golden tilefish burrow at the bottom of the ocean, giving them longer lasting oil levels than other fish.

Which of your findings or research has been most eye-opening? Were there any moments or facts that just made you say "Wow! I did not expect that."?

The most interesting thing I have seen in our results so far is the strong impact of species on contaminant load.  Due to differences in behavior, diet, habitat, physiology etc., we are seeing differences in PAHs measured.

Also, it’s been a very eye-opening experience to go out on our fishing trips, work longlining and see the offshore oil infrastructure up close.

Why do you study fish health? What inspires you? Was there an instance in your past where you realized the importance of understanding your research topic or is it an important aspect of your future career? 

I love my job.  I love that every day I come into work and my job is to quantify anthropogenic pollution and its impacts on marine resources.  I enjoy the hands-on time in the lab, learning the analytical instrumentation and the very apparent real world applications and I hope to pursue a career doing similar research in the field of Environmental Toxicology/Environmental Chemistry.

Susan helps a student properly measure a fish during an outreach activity.


Juan Viamonte, Student of the Month, October 2016
Bekka Larson, Student of the Month, February 2017

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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