Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Five Years Later, Vigorous Research Continues

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that occurred on April 20, 2010 not only triggered an unprecedented contamination of the northern Gulf of Mexico, but also yielded an unparalleled research effort to gauge the effects of the massive oil spill.

Deepwater Horizon burning

Five years after the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, scientists at The University of Southern Mississippi continue to lead the way in mapping and analyzing the oil spill’s effects on the Gulf waters’ fragile ecosystem.

“I don’t think anyone involved in the aftermath of this disaster really understood the magnitude of what took place. It wasn’t the sort of thing you could imagine happening,” said Dr. Monty Graham, chair of the Division of Marine Science at Southern Miss. “Nobody has completely wrapped his or her arms around everything associated with the oil spill. Five years later we are still making new discoveries tied to the spill, and this will most likely continue for decades to come.”

The British Petroleum-leased Deepwater Horizon platform was drilling approximately 50 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast when an explosion and subsequent fire destroyed the rig. Eleven people died in the blast and 17 others were injured. The explosion ruptured a well beneath the water’s surface, creating an oil leak that lasted 87 days. More than 200 million gallons of crude oil was pumped into the Gulf of Mexico, affecting 16,000 total miles of coastline from Florida to Texas.

Almost immediately USM scientists from the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) and Stennis Space Center began investigating and processing the damage caused by the spill. Less than two weeks after the disaster, the University assembled an Oil Spill Response Team to coordinate the University’s efforts in monitoring the spill’s repercussions.

“USM has been at the forefront of the oil spill research almost since day one,” said Dr. Read Hendon, director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development at GCRL. “Having the northern Gulf of Mexico quite literally in our own backyard positioned us strategically and practically to be a lead institution in studying the spill.

“That, coupled with USM’s diverse range of expertise in marine and coastal sciences, has allowed the University to serve a prominent role in this process over the last five years. That role will continue, and likely expand, in the coming years as we strengthen our scientific capacity along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”