GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - USM's research vessel, Point Sur, is in the midst of an oil-spill related study in the northern gulf. The 135 foot ship docked at its homeport in Gulfport Tuesday, as the ship rotated crews.
The Point Sur is allowing students and scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi, to answer some critical questions about the dynamic environment that makes up the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Water flow or transport is among the key study components.
"It's interesting to be able to characterize kind of how organisms are transported from the offshore to the inshore areas. Along the inshore, there's a lot of nursery habitats that are really key for many larvae fish species, as well as their prey," said researcher Alison Deary with USM.
Heavy duty cranes aboard Point Sur enable researchers to maneuver large equipment that takes measurements of gulf waters and brings aboard samples of seafloor sediment. An onboard "nursery" keeps plankton immersed in various sea water samples.
"Just like a fancy fish finder that you'd have on a boat, but a little bit higher tech," said assistant professor Ian Church, as he explained his sonar gear.
High tech sonar equipment provides underwater imagery.
"This feature here is a barge that was sunk as part of an artificial reef," he explained, pointing to an image on a computer screen.
"We really focus on the student training, the young faculty training, early career folks. Because that's what we are, we're a university. So we want to give experiences to our young folks, because they're building careers around this ship," said Dr. Monty Graham, who chairs the marine science department at the University of Southern Mississippi.
This study is funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. And the work has direct implications for the oil spill.
"With the oil spill component, we look at oil, once it's entered into this system, where these aggregations occur, which organisms may be more or less impacted, should another oil spill event occur," said assistant professor Frank Hernandez.
Some of the data and samples collected can be analyzed onboard the vessel. Others will be taken back to the onshore lab for further study.
The research vessel, Point Sur, is in big demand. Not only does it perform studies for USM, but the ship is also hired out to other universities and private research endeavors.