Monday, August 26, 2013


Deep-C and Above: Looking Forward at the Gulf of Mexico's Ecosystem Health
By Christina Omran 

I believe Deep-C Consortium’s research will benefit society by providing us with new ways to observe, quantify, and respond to future marine petroleum related hazards.  I also think it is imperative to share this kind of information with the public.  So as an inductee in the Florida State University's Social Science Scholars Program and a research student under Deep-C scientist Dr. Ian MacDonald, I initiated an interactive outreach series focused on spreading awareness about the current state of our Gulf of Mexico, including ecological and socioeconomic impacts. 

During presentations, I focus on the ecological and biological aspects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The outreach lectures, entitled “Deep-C and Above: Looking Forward at the Gulf of Mexico’s Ecosystem Health,” deal with the biological and ecological aspects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Subjects ranging from the effects on the biodiversity of the food chain from the microbial scale upwards, to the effects of oil mixed with dispersants on Gulf corals, are covered in a conversational setting. The talks typically touch on the ongoing mitigation efforts and comparing the social response of the 2010 oil spill to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Topics like the chemistry of heavy oil, the reaction of wildlife to oil in their environment, and environmental hazards as societal problems are also up for debate during each outreach event. 

Audience participation is a vital aspect of all outreach, so I welcome the exchange of facts and ideas with members of my audiences. This process of exchanging both scientific facts and public opinions allows the dynamics of open conversation to lead the scientific discussions. It also allows each outreach event to vary based on the audience’s interests. 

In addition to the ecological impacts, the students I meet with
often want to discuss societal issues related to the oil spill.
So far, I’ve had the privilege of interacting with more than 200 FSU students at these events, and every challenging question from the audience helps to expand my understanding of the issues and inform my future graduate school ambitions. As a matter of fact, the question and answer portion is my favorite part. 

I am inspired by how passionate many of the students are when learning about the work being done by Deep-C and discussing the current state of the Gulf. I've been fascinated to hear many of the students have specific, personal relationships to certain oil spill topics. For example, one student who attended an event has a family member who works for Beyond Petroleum. This student shared rich information and his perceptive on the global economic impacts; giving the audience and me an expanded insight. Another student who recently researched and wrote an essay on Corexit (the dispersant used during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill) spoke up about the synergistic effects of chemical dispersants in Gulf waters. It is clear to me that my outreach events are mutually beneficial because I learn from my audience as they learn from me. 

Moreover, I am eager to continue the learning process so I can enhance the outreach events. My goal is to expand the outreach, improve the content, and speak to as many students as possible. This fulfilling experience has enlightened me to the power of public opinion in the sciences and fueled my aspiration to study environmental science in my academic career.  


Christina Omran is a student at Florida State University (FSU) majoring in Environmental Studies with a certificate in Urban and Regional Planning. She is currently working as a research student with Deep-C researcher Dr. Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer of deep-ocean extreme communitiesUnder the guidance and mentorship of Dr. MacDonald, Christina initiated an interactive outreach series focusing on the impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the current state of the Gulf of Mexico

Taylor Shropshire's Internship, Summer 2013 - Part 3

Before leaving COAPS to head back to Greensboro, NC, and soon after my semester at NC State University, I got to kayak the Wacissa, snorkel Saint Andrews State Park, and swim at Panama City Beach!

My last two weeks at COAPS came to a close with a feeling of accomplishment. I was able to develop a relationship between chlorophyll a and salinity using ELCOM-CAEDYM model output, validate the relationship with NEGOM cruise data, and apply it to satellite ocean color data, which provided some preliminary results that were informative and will be useful to build on in the future. I got the opportunity to work with MATLAB, which is a valuable skill, and collaborate with COAPS scientists. My Deep-C internship was an extremely valuable experience, which I will continue to benefit from in my classes back at NC State and in my future career.  

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Taylor Shropshire, Florida State University

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Lauren Reilly's Internship, Summer 2013 - Part 6

Now that we have data from the mass spec, it’s time to figure out what it all means and write the paper. Much of my time has been spent reviewing published papers about the BP oil blowout and how methane affects Cibicidoides spp. It’s very time consuming and I am learning a lot about the benthic fauna.

After seeing the data for the four cores, we realized we need to collect more data such as cibs from the same 2 sites but from a different month, which will be September 2011. We also plan to extrude a core from a known methane seep site and a site that is believed to be unaffected by oil in order to have data to compare the differences in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the addition of this data will be included in another paper that will build off the one I am working on now.

Thinking about everything all at once can be overwhelming at times because there is so much information and so many ways to portray and explain the results. Dr. Patrick Schwing (show in the photo at the right) has been working with me to answer questions and help me attain the information I need to write the paper. He reminds me to think simple, Occam’s Razor. Remembering this really helps bring me back to my objective when deciding what information to include in my paper. I feel really fortunate to have this opportunity to work on this project as an undergrad and to have such a helpful mentor.
Post Author: Lauren "Ren" Reilly, University of South Florida

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Curtis Okolovitch's Internship, Summer 2013 - Part 9

My internship with Deep-C has finally come to an end. After analyzing sample extracts using Gas Chromatography (GC-FID) and processing the data from the growth and degradation experiments, I was able to come to some conclusions about Kala’s and my work this summer.

First off, in both experiments we were able to show significant growth of Alcanivorax spp. and Acinetobacter spp. on Macondo Oil. Secondly, one of our extraction procedures was able to demonstrate a decrease in total petroleum hydrocarbons. Both of these conclusions provide further evidence that these bacteria eat petroleum hydrocarbons and may give us insight into their role in the microbial communities of oiled environments!

Last week, I had the opportunity to present a poster on the data Kala and I have collected this summer at an Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) poster session. It was an awesome experience to speak with other undergraduate researchers and learn about the other research happening at Georgia Tech with the summer REU program in aquatic chemical ecology.

Me presenting a poster of Kala’s and my data at the REU Poster Session.
Overall, we are on track for perfecting the method of characterizing these bacterial strains. However, we still have a lot to do before we reach our goal of characterizing all of the hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria the Kostka Lab has isolated from oiled sands. We have already begun new cultures of Acinetobacter and Alcanivorax with 5% Macondo Oil to be sent to USF and analyzed for total petroleum hydrocarbons.

With my last words I would like to thank everyone in the Kostka Lab at Georgia Tech, especially Dr. Joel Kostka, Kala Marks, and Will Overholt, for all their mentoring and guidance this summer. I would also like to thank the Deep-C Consortium for this great opportunity. I hope you all gained a better appreciation for the role of the microbial community in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Spill! 
Curtis Okolovitch, Georgia Tech

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Dana Fields's Internship, Summer 2013 - Part 5

I can’t believe that summer break is almost over, that my internship is over… and that I’m due back in the classroom in a week and a half. It’s been very busy and time has flown by much too quickly.

So what did we accomplish?

From the CTD-Divers attached to mooring cable 1 (see Part 3) we obtained data for temperature, pressure, and salinity at five different points above the ocean floor. We found that the pressure plots were strongly influenced by the tides. We applied a filter to the data to remove the tidal signal (Figure 1) so that we could see how much of the pressure variation was due to other phenomena. Examination of the temperature plots (Figure 2) showed us the predicted seasonal and diurnal variations at all depths but also provided insight into some phenomena while raising questions about others. The conductivity plots (Figure 3), which provide salinity data, were a bit disappointing. Biofouling of the sensors prevented them from providing much information past the first month of deployment.
Figure 1
Figure 2

Figure 3
We were also able to obtain data from a NOAA buoy (Figure 4) anchored near our mooring site that allowed us to plot similar graphs (Figure 5) for wind speed and direction; air pressure and temperature; and sea surface temperature for comparison.
Figure 4

Figure 5
It was fascinating to be able to line up all these graphs to look for correlations between them. Someone else will undoubtedly perform formal correlation and spectral analysis of the data, but I enjoyed just lining the graphs up to see what we could figure out via “eyeball analysis.” We were able to observe how Tropical Storm Debbie and Hurricane Isaac affected both air and water measurements. The graphs raised questions about how advection (currents) can change and affect water temperature at different depths before, during, and after storm events. It’s also possible to use the data to validate (or not!) the models currently being used for the Gulf of Mexico.

For me, the really interesting part is knowing that this data will be assimilated along with data from other sources, and used by other Deep-C researchers. Dr. Nico Wienders and Dr. Allan Clark are already talking about how this data will be used and reported at the upcoming Deep-C All-Hands Meeting this fall. It’s a fine feeling for me to leave knowing I was a part of the overall effort.

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Dana Fields (shown here with her mentor, Dr. Nico Wienders, at Florida State University)