BP Deepwater Effect on Gulf of Mexico Food Chain
Research by East Carolina University faculty and students has confirmed that oil from the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico did reach the ocean’s food chain. The ECU researchers worked with colleagues at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Oregon State University and the United States Geological Survey. In their study published by Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers found that crude oil from the spill entered the food chain through the tiniest of organisms, zooplankton, which forms the base of the food chain in marine ecosystems.
Zooplankton is a categorization spanning a range of organism sizes including small protozoans and large metazoans. Although zooplankton are primarily transported by ambient water currents, many have locomotion, used to avoid predators (as in diel vertical migration) or to increase prey encounter rate. Plankton are the base of the overall marine food chain. They serve as food for baby fish and shrimp and act as conduits for the movement of oil contamination and pollutants into the food chain.
The researchers were able to determine the extent to which oil and oil pollutants had affected the ecosystem by extracting polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which can be used to identify oil and determine its origin.
"Our research helped to determine a fingerprint of the Deepwater Horizon spill; something that other researchers interested the spill may be able to use," Mitra said.
"Furthermore, our work demonstrated that zooplankton in the Northern Gulf of Mexico accumulated toxic compounds derived from the well."
The researchers found the fingerprint of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in low levels among zooplankton in the area as much as a month after the leaking wellhead was capped. In addition, the extent of the contamination seemed to be variable or inconsistent.
Some zooplankton at certain locations far removed from the spill showed evidence of contamination, whereas zooplankton in other locations, sometimes near the spill, showed lower indications of exposure to the oil-derived pollutants.
For further information: http://blog.ecu.edu/sites/poeight/blog/2012/03/13/ecu-research-reveals-impact-from-2010-deepwater-horizon-oil-spill/ or http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2012/2011GL049505.shtml