Monday, January 24, 2011

UA gets funds for spill impact study

18 researchers awarded total of $800,000

The Associated Press
Workers operate a Sand Shark cleaning device in Orange Beach in November. University of Alabama researchers have been awarded about $800,000 in grants to research the impact of the Gulf oil spill from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab near Mobile.
By Wayne Grayson Staff Writer
Published: Monday, January 24, 2011 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 10:56 p.m.
In Julie Olson’s 10 years at the University of Alabama, she’s had a lot of experience with the state’s Marine Environmental Science Consortium.
The consortium is composed of 22 Alabama four-year colleges and universities and is based at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab near Mobile.
“Ever since I’ve been at the university, my work with the consortium has been restricted to educational opportunities,” said Olson, associate professor of biological sciences at UA.
But Olson said last spring’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill may bring the group back to the work it was originally intended to do.
Olson is one of 18 UA researchers awarded a combined total of about $800,000 from BP to research the impact of the Gulf oil spill, with colleagues from colleges and universities across the state.
In the wake of the oil spill in April, BP pledged $500 million to the Gulf Research Initiative Open Research Program. Of that amount, $5 million was designated as rapid response funds for the consortium.
“And this project will be novel in that it’s one of the first times that we’re bringing the intellectual power in the state of Alabama together to address a problem,” Olson said.
The 18 UA researchers represent the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Human and Environmental Sciences, and they will take part in eight separate research projects. Working alongside them will be researchers from Auburn and Troy universities, along with the universities of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama at Huntsville, South Alabama and others.

Joe Benson, UA’s vice president for research, said once the research paid for by the $800,000 begins, UA will have about $1.1 million worth of research taking place related to the oil spill. Three other research projects are already under way thanks to $300,000 from the National Science Foundation.
Part of the research is computer science research on the oil spill implementing cloud computing. Another part is studying the accelerating degradation of biocarbons and the third is looking at starlet sea anemones as an indicator species for assessing impacts of molecular and physiological impacts of the spill, Benson said.
Olson and her team will focus their research on assessing the impact of oil and dispersant on marine sponges and the tiny creatures that live inside them.
Because 24,000 liters of sea water are filtered per kilogram of marine sponge per day, Olson said the creatures are the perfect specimen for monitoring the effects of the oil spill on sea life.
“They’re filtering massive amounts of water on a daily basis,” she said. “Fishes may be exposed to the oil as well, but the odds of us seeing any effects from their exposure in the short term are slim.
“Because sponges will see large quantities of water mixed with oil and dispersant over a short amount of time, we’ll see things more immediately.”
Olson said she and her team aren’t sure what to expect of their findings.
“It’s one of those things that’s kind of open-ended because nobody knows a lot about how invertebrates respond to an oil spill,” she said. “Most of our studies have focused on fishes, or dolphins or pelicans or turtles. We don’t really know how the sponges change.”
Benson said the university hopes the money from BP evolves into a larger project in the next few years.
“This really represents a first-year allocation,” Benson said. “In the best case scenario, this would be year one of a five-year project period. There will be proposals for year two at the end of December.”

Benson said next year’s funding will be peer reviewed at the national level, which will require UA researchers to assemble the strongest possible research teams.
“That means they’ll have to look outside the state of Alabama for team members and even internationally,” he said. “So our faculty are currently working on not only identifying research projects (for the next year) but also putting together the strongest possible research team to carry it out.”

1 comment:

  1. I cant find a new picture all over the internet about this catastrophe, could you post some new pics?


    Jorge from Brasil


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