A $10 million grant to be awarded from BP to the Northern Gulf Institute (NGI) will support the work of University of Southern Mississippi faculty and staff studying the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf Coast.
Southern Miss, a member of the NGI, will receive an initial $1 million of the grant that will go toward a variety of projects and activities conducted by university scientists and researchers, including surveys conducted by the university’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) of marine life and fisheries, said Dr. Steve Lohrenz, chairman of the Southern Miss Department of Marine Science and an NGI Fellow and Principal Investigator.
“This funding will also support our continued efforts to conduct environmental sampling of water quality and other chemical and biological properties that will be done in the western Mississippi sound and extending offshore south of Horn Island,” he said.
“We’re also looking at the chemical characteristics of the oil, its breakdown by natural bacterial activities and its toxicity for marine life. We’ve also had groups looking at socio-economic and public health impacts since the early stages of this crisis.”
On Saturday, Lohrenz took his second flight aboard a Mississippi Air National Guard aircraft to observe the incident site, the barrier islands and the Mississippi Sound and Louisiana marshlands along with other scientists, researchers, public officials and media. He noted from his observations that the oil sheen is now more evident south of the barrier islands.
The Mississippi Air National Guard’s Task Force Vigilant Horizon conducts daily flights over the Gulf of Mexico to gather information that is used to support oil spill response efforts. Operating from the Gulfport-Biloxi Air National Guard airbase, the Guard provides flights for scientists, researchers, public officials, and media to see the incident site and affected coast line, from Grand Isle to Dauphin Island.
“It’s (Vigilant Horizon) an important resource that the Mississippi Air National Guard is providing,” Lohrenz said. “To see it firsthand from the air gives you a much clearer picture of what’s happening and the magnitude of this event, along with the complexity and amount of oil in its many different forms.”
Lohrenz said during the flyover he witnessed a sheen of oil off Horn Island and in between Horn and Ship Islands, and some patches of oil in the Mississippi Sound itself that matched a common description of having a heavy, reddish-brown mousse appearance.
“That obviously reinforces what we’ve been hearing, that the oil is now making landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and that we are definitely getting substantial impacts as a result of shifts in wind direction,” he said. “It’s difficult to say at this point exactly what the impact on aquatic life and the health of eco systems will be, but this is serious.”
Southern Miss is one of five members of the NGI, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Cooperative Institute, which is a partnership of complimentary academic research institutions that includes Mississippi State University, Florida State University, Louisiana State University and the Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory. These institutions support long-term, collaborative, regional research, development and transition of results affecting the northern Gulf of Mexico.
For more information about the Southern Miss Department of Marine Science, online visit www.usm.edu/marine. For more information about the NGI, online visit http://www.northerngulfinstitute.org
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.