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On 20 April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon (DwH) drilling rig operating approximately 50 miles (80 km) off the coast of Louisiana experienced a catastrophic failure that resulted in the release of petroleum (oil and gas) and subsequent explosion and fire, the ultimate sinking of the rig, and a discharge of gas and light sweet crude oil from an ocean depth of nominally 5,000 feet (1525 m). This tragic event was overshadowed with the loss of 11 men who were working on the rig at the time of the explosion.

Mission of Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative

The mission of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is to improve society’s ability to understand and mitigate the impacts of hydrocarbon pollution and stressors of the marine environment, with an emphasis on conditions found in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, the knowledge accrued will be applied not only to resolve but also to improve the long-term environmental health of the Gulf of Mexico.

The DWH spill was likely the largest in US history. The large oil and gas volumes released during the spill are part of a series of petroleum-related impacts suffered by the Gulf of Mexico, including the IXTOC I spill in 1979, the large-scale oil spillage during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the chronic annual releases due to ship activity, industry activity, and human use.

The DWH spill resulted in petroleum and dispersants entering the Gulf of Mexico at varied concentration levels vertically and laterally, with a yet-to-be-determined impact on the ecosystems.

On 24 May 2010, BP committed $500 million over a 10-year period to create a broad, independent research program to be conducted at research institutions primarily in the US Gulf Coast States.  BP asked Dr. Rita Colwell to Chair the GoMRI Research Board because of her experience as Director of the National Science Foundation and her prior research and scientific publications on microbial degradation of oil.  Dr. Coldwell identified highly qualified scientists and the the governors of the five Gulf of Mexico states nominated two Research Board members each.  The GoMRI Research Board has 20 members who are science, public health, and research administration experts.

Please visit GoMRI’s home page for more details on the program.

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