Orcutt leads Gulf of Mexico research cruise


East Boothbay, Maine, March 5, 2014 - From March 6-13, the research vessel Pelican will leave Cocodrie, Louisiana with scientists to assess the long-term impacts of oil and gas released in the Gulf of Mexico, and to learn more about how microbes may play a role in their natural degradation. Senior Research Scientist Beth Orcutt of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, ME will lead the scientific investigation.The team will be using the remotely operated vehicle Global Explorer to service, recover, and deploy instruments in the northern Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast. One of the instruments is a deep-sea lander with custom experiments to study the microbial communities that naturally degrade oil and gas, and to determine the discharge and transport of oil and gas. The team will also be deploying custom deep-sea cameras to image oil and gas bubbles escaping from the seafloor, which is used to quantify the amount of oil and gas that is released.In the Gulf of Mexico, oil and gas formed through geological processes finds its way to the seafloor and into the overlying seawater. This "natural" seepage has been going on for thousands of years, in contrast to the catastrophic releases occurring from human activity. By studying natural analogues of oil and gas release in the environment, scientists can learn more about the effects of man-made releases."This work is part of a time-series to assess the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 on deep sea environments in the Gulf of Mexico, " explained chief scientist Orcutt. "Our experiments are designed to figure out how effectively microbes may degrade natural oil and gas seepage. What we learn will help provide a better understanding of the long-term impact of the 2010 spill."The scientific team includes Orcutt and researchers from the University of North Carolina, Florida State University, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Southern Mississippi. The research cruise is part of the ongoing work of the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil & Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) consortium based at the University of Mississippi. ECOGIG's mission is to understand the environmental signatures and impacts of natural seepage versus that of abrupt, large hydrocarbon inputs on coupled benthic-pelagic processes in deepwater ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico, and to chart the long-term effects and mechanisms of ecosystem recovery from the 2010 Macondo well blowout. For more information about ECOGIG, visit www.ecogig.org. The expedition's progress will be reported daily at http://www.ecogig.org and on Twitter at @DeepMicrobe. This research was made possible by a grant from the BP/Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. The GoMRI is a 10-year, $500 million independent research program established by an agreement between BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident and the potential associated impact of this and similar incidents on the environment and public health. Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine's emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory's research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.PHOTO CAPTION: ECOGIG scientists use custom deep-sea cameras to image a stream of oily bubbles that naturally seep from the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy of the Schmidt Ocean Institute and Deep Sea Science International.