Consortium to Study, Minimize Effects of Gulf Oil Spill

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is partnering with two Louisiana institutions to determine the myriad impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil discharge into the Gulf of Mexico and to devise and implement possible solutions to the disaster.

WHOI has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Louisiana State University (LSU) and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) to form a consortium called the Gulf Oil Research Program (GORP).

“The purpose of the consortium is to work cooperatively to plan, secure funding for, execute and report on a program of scientific research to describe and quantify the effects of the oil spill on varied environments, communities and species in the affected region, and to develop and implement remediations where feasible,” the memorandum stated.

The April 20 oil spill “has created what may be the largest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history,” the MOU stated. “Effects of the discharged oil and dispersant chemicals are expected to be widespread and long lasting in many environments of the Gulf of Mexico, including deep sea benthos and water column, sub-tidal benthos, coastal marshes and beaches, with significant economic impacts to fisheries, tourism and coastal development.”

Judy McDowell, chair of the biology department, director of the WHOI Sea Grant program and former associate dean, will serve as the institution’s principal investigator for research in the collaboration. She stressed that collaboration of WHOI with LSU and LUMCON will help develop a greater understanding how the spill impacts near-shore and deep-water habitats.

The agreement comprises numerous goals and conditions, including:

  • Assembling the best available research team from the scientific and technical staff s of each institution.
  • The research plan will be comprehensive geographically and ecologically and based on the most current methods for sampling, analysis, modeling and data management.
  • Data from the program will be available as soon as possible to all participating scientists and to others with legitimate need for access.
  • Results will be published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, according to normal academic practice, and also presented in technical reports, popular publications, Web sites and other media as appropriate.
  • Rights to intellectual property developed in the course of the research will be shared proportionally by the researchers and institutions involved in creation of the property.

According to the memorandum, the project is expected to be supported “significantly” by BP. Other possible federal, corporate and private funding also may be pursued.

The principal investigators at each institution will oversee each research proposal prepared by scientists in the consortium. Each institution will be responsible for administration of grant funds to its scientists, and for all reporting requirements for work done by its scientists.

The MOU will be in effect for an initial term of 3 years. The participants will then have the option to renew it by mutual agreement.

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