Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences seeks to understand key processes driving global ocean ecosystems, their evolution, and their fundamental relationship to life on Earth. The Laboratory’s research ranges from microbial oceanography — examining biological productivity and phytoplankton community dynamics in the world’s oceans at the molecular level — to the large-scale biogeochemical processes that drive interactions between ocean ecosystems and global environmental conditions. The consequences of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for the health and resilience of ocean ecosystems, especially its chronic effects on marine microbial communities, biogeochemical cycles, and phytoplankton assemblages, are currently unknown.
On June 3, 2010, Bigelow Laboratory Executive Director Dr. Graham Shimmield met with fellow members of the Consortium on Ocean Leadership at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge for a scientific symposium on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The purpose of the meeting was to identify existing gaps in knowledge about the spill and its impacts on Gulf ecosystems and communities, and begin to formulate priorities for rapid federal research funding. Among the top priorities identified by Ocean Leadership scientists were the need to catalog existing research activities and long-term monitoring and modeling programs for ecosystems and human health, and to begin monitoring a broad set of sentinel habitat sites.
Predicting the long-term effects of the spill on the microscopic communities that form the fabric of marine ecosystems requires the type of collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that is a hallmark of Bigelow science. The Laboratory is committed to mobilizing its ocean science research groups in microbial ecology, molecular biology, evolutionary bioinformatics, biodiversity research, phylogenetic analysis, organismal physiology, and remote sensing to rapidly assess the existing state of scientific knowledge about phytoplankton ecology under conditions of sudden toxicity and environmental stress. We will work with colleagues in peer institutions and governmental agencies to develop both an immediate research program and a long-term scientific strategy as part of a collective scientific response to this unprecedented environmental accident.