Campus News

Researchers receive grants to assess environmental impacts of Gulf oil spill

Two UGA marine sciences researchers, Samantha Joye and Patricia Medeiros, have received rapid response grants from the National Science Foundation to further assess the environmental impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Joye, Medeiros and colleagues from UGA and other universities left last week on an expedition in the Gulf of Mexico to locate, map and further characterize the deepwater plumes discovered in May in the Gulf of Mexico.

Joye, a professor in UGA’s ­department of marine sciences, part of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, received $192,528 to purchase three cavity ring-down spectroscopy systems. The instruments will allow Joye to quantify the composition and concentration of methane, dissolved inorganic carbon and the dissolved organic carbon in seawater samples by identifying chemicals based on their interactions with light.

“This grant will improve our ability to trace oil and gas derived from the spill as it is processed and transformed into dissolved inorganic carbon, dissolved organic carbon and microbial biomass,” said Joye.

Medeiros, an assistant research scientist in marine sciences, also received an NSF rapid response grant, this one for $100,900, to purchase a gas chromatograph coupled to a mass spectrometer detector. She will use the instrument to characterize the organic composition of sediment and particulate carbon in samples collected in the Gulf. She will look for petroleum biomarkers, such as hopanes, steranes, terpanes-and also polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are predominant components of oils.

“Analysis of several months of samples will help us to identify and quantify transformations of the ­oil-derived organic matter with time and distance from the spill,” said Medeiros.

Medeiros will compare samples throughout the water column, from the surface to the sub-surface plumes observed in the Gulf, to assess their degradation and assimilation by bacteria.

Joye and Medeiros will collaborate closely, not only with each other, but with colleagues from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Texas. Their work will advance understanding of oil and gas-derived carbon flow in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, and has potential to improve global models of the oceanic carbon cycle.