News and Events at the ESL

WAPO: Gulf Oil Spill Could Cause Lasting Damage to Fish Populations

LSU study shows significant impacts on Gulf food chain

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Juliet Eilperin, a journalist writing for the Washington Post, writes an article highlighting research performed at LSU on the impacts of the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill. The research is a collaboration between LSU's departments of Biology, Chemistry, and LSU's School of the Coast and Environment as well as researchers at Clemson and Texas State Univerisy. The Earth Scan Laboratory contributed to this research by providing a metric of surface oil inundation at sample locations across the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Ms. Eilperin writes:

Fish living in Gulf of Mexico marshes exposed to last year’s oil spill have undergone cellular changes that could lead to developmental and reproductive problems, a group of researchers reported Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


[Principal Investigator Andrew]Whitehead said the results show that just because fish from the gulf have passed federal inspections, it does not mean these species are unaffected by the spill.

“You can have a fish that’s safe to eat but is still not healthy,” he said, adding that as sediment containing hydrocarbons is dredged up by storms, it could expose species over time. “The sediments are going to act as this long-term reservoir of oil, of potential exposure.”

Published: September 26, 2011

BBC: What will a hurricane do to the oil spill?

BBC's interview of LSU's Ed Overton and ESL Director Nan Walker

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The BBC's Finlo Rohrer ask the ESL's director Nan Walker and LSU's Ed Overton what will a hurricane do to the oil spill?

Apart from the possibility of damage and loss of life unrelated to the oil spill, there is a very obvious downside to hurricanes passing near the source of the oil spill.

A hurricane would clearly disrupt the efforts to stop the leak, although BP has a plan to install a device in order to quickly disconnect and reconnect the link down to the spill site in high winds. On shore, tasks like the laying of boom and rescue of wildlife would become more problematic.

But what would happen to the oil that is already out there floating in the sea?


"It is potentially not a pretty picture," says Prof Nan Walker, an oceanographer at the School of the Coast and Environment at LSU.

"A real concern is that because Louisiana is so low-lying, even a category one storm can raise the water level eight or 10 feet.

"There is potential for oil to go fairly far inland, penetrating the marshes even deeper. It makes the problem potentially a lot worse."

The sand berms, or barriers, that have been planned in Louisiana may not stop even a relatively small storm surge.

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Published: June 02, 2010

NY Times: Loop Current Destabilizes, Lowering Gulf Oil Spill's Threat to Fla.

Loop Current sheds an eddy, keeping oil in the central Gulf and out of the Gulf Stream

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Paul Voosen of the New York Times writes that the loop current's destabilization in mid-May will keep surface oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the central Gulf of Mexico rather than continuing on to the southern and eastern coast of Florida:

A large rotating cyclone of cold water is pushing into the southern body of the Gulf of Mexico's Loop Current and now appears likely to destabilize or even sever the current and the oil it contains from its connection to Florida, scientists said today.

[I]magery today has shown that, while filaments of oil have escaped into the current, "the main pool of oil is remaining up there in the eddy" and not progressing south, said Mitch Roffer, an oceanographer at the scientific consulting firm ROFFS.


Typically, a forceful counterclockwise cyclone near southwest Florida "punches through the Loop Current," severing the flow from its connection to the Atlantic, said Nan Walker, the director of the Earth Scan Lab at Louisiana State University's School of the Coast and Environment.

"It looks like that kind of scenario is imminent," Walker said.


"At this stage, it's a watch and waiting game," Walker said.  
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Published: May 20, 2010

National Geographic: Gulf Oil Is in the Loop Current, Experts Say

Oil caught in eddy could soon merge with Loop Current

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Christine Dell'Amore of National Geographic writes of the increasing possibility that oil will reach the Loop Current and be carried southward.

"Images from the past few days show a "big, wide tongue" of oil reaching south from the main area of the spill, off the coast of Louisiana, said Nan Walker, director of Louisiana State University's Earth Scan Laboratory, in the School of the Coast and Environment."


"The oil has also reached the point where the eddy connects to the Loop Current, Walker said. That means the oil is traveling eastward alongside the main stream of the Loop Current, and it's likely that it will continue flowing with the current to Florida, Walker said."


Published: May 18, 2010

NY Times: The Oil and the Loop Current

The Loop Current carries oil towards the Florida Keys and the Atlantic Ocean

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An article written in the New York Times by John Collins Rudolf explores the influence of the Loop Current on oil trajectory. The piece examines the possibility of oil being carried by the Loop Current and making it to the Florida Keys and eventually the Atlantic Ocean.


Satellite images shed light on the trajectory of the oil and the current. The image above shows the oil spill as observed from space by the NASA Satellites Terra and Aqua on Monday. Using an array of sensors, these satellites detect the spectral reflection of the ocean, allowing a wide variety of observations on things like water temperature and surface features like the oil spill.

“It’s highly visible in our imagery,” said Nan Walker, an oceanographer with the Earth Scan Laboratory at Louisiana State University, where a separate analysis of the satellite images is being done. “It’s unmistakable. And oil spills, to my mind, aren’t usually that easy to track.” 

Published: May 18, 2010

NY Times: Unpredictable Current Is Wild Card in Gulf Disaster Scenarios

Will the loop current bring oil out of the Gulf?

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Paul Voosen writes an article in the New York Times about the impact the loop current will have on the fate of surface oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

An undersea conveyor belt to Florida is approaching the Gulf Coast oil spill, and should it stretch past its typical bounds, oil from the BP PLC accident, blobbing placidly off the Louisiana coast, could soon stream into the Florida Keys and up the United States' Eastern Seaboard.

Or the current could miss the spill entirely.

For the current to begin conveying the oil at any volume, it would still have to surge much farther north, which some computer models like Weisberg's are predicting. However, as Weisberg confesses, many of these models are deeply flawed, and the behavior of the Loop Current -- when it will decide to surge or instead break apart -- is prohibitively complex to forecast.

In other words, "no one has really been able to predict with much accuracy what the Loop Current will do," said Nan Walker, the director of the Earth Scan Laboratory at Louisiana State University, who is monitoring the oil and current with several sets of satellite data.

Published: May 05, 2010

National Geographic: Hurricane Could Push Spilled Gulf Oil Into New Orleans

ESL Director Nan Walker and others comment on impacts hurricanes could have on oil spill

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Christine Dell'Amore reports on the impact a hurricane could have on surface oil and the cleanup effort in a National Geographic article:

Inside the National Weather Service office in Slidell, Louisiana (map), data screens are showing clear skies over the Gulf of Mexico.

But lead forecaster Robert Ricks, who's coordinating 12-hour emergency shifts to provide information to people combating the Gulf oil spill, knows not to drop his guard.

"Just when you think everything's fine—that's when it can go wrong," said Ricks, who was also on duty in 2005 as Hurricane Katrina pummeled Slidell.


"Say the oil spill remained and [another] Katrina hit," said Nan Walker, a physical oceanographer at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge. "The oil could be propelled onto land by the storm surge and monster waves."

Ron Kendall, chair of the Department of Environmental Toxicology at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, made a more dire prediction: "You put a major hurricane in there, you’re liable to have oil in downtown New Orleans."

Published: May 05, 2010