There are four main questions to be addressed:
(1) What was the trajectory and fate of oil from the Macondo well, including its delivery mechanisms to the seafloor?
(2) What were the physical, chemical, and biological processes that controlled its distribution, abundance, composition, and toxicity?
(3) What were the effects of hydrocarbons on benthic microbial communities?
(4) How do these effects compare with pre-spill samples from the same sites and uncontaminated sites?
The type of oil, ocean and meteorological conditions (e.g. temperature, salinity, weather conditions), and spill location influence the dispersion process, biodegradation, and ecotoxicity of the resulting complex emulsions. Different oil spill response options such as mechanical recovery, use of dispersants, natural dispersion, and mechanical dispersion can be compared with each other in order to decide on the best response option.
This project aims at developing a decision support tool for the possible application of chemical treatments to reduce the impact of an oil spill in relation to the conditions of the spill. Three important aspects are included into the Decision Support Tool (DST): the effects on the physical processes of oil dispersion, the consequences for the bioavailability and degradation of the oil components in the marine environment, and the ecotoxicological effects resulting oil with and without chemical dispersants. This DST includes the following model parameters that will be validated with laboratory and model ecosystem and field research: oil properties (over time and with varying crude oil sources), seawater properties, weather conditions, dispersant addition, and addition of 4th generation dispersant (with bacteria and nutrients).
The results of the three integrated projects are a DST for the best oil spill response given the specific characteristics of the oil spill, its location and environmental conditions. In this research, we include droplet fate over time in terms of dispersion and degradation within the near-surface ocean, the toxicity of the oil and its components, and the dispersion, degradation and toxicity of compounds added as dispersants. This research helps prevent redundant and costly measures that may make the spilled oil more toxic to the ecosystem.