Scientists get free use of research vessel to study BP oil disaster

Published: Nov. 5, 2012 at 10:48 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 6, 2012 at 10:54 AM CST
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PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - On Tuesday, some Mississippi researchers will be heading to the Gulf of Mexico, searching for answers into the long-term effects of the BP oil disaster. They will be on board one of the most advanced research vessels around.

Docked at the Port of Pascagoula, the research vessel "Falkor" prepared for a month-long expedition. On Tuesday, she will carry a team of scientists from eight universities to the site of the 2010 BP explosion. The scientists are part of the research consortium ECOGIG, based at the University of Mississippi.

"We're working way out, deeper than most people do and trying to get close to the site of the spill and to try and learn about that part of the ecosystem," said Dr. Ray Highsmith, Executive Director of ECOGIG.

The Falkor will serve as a state-of-the-art floating laboratory. The ship provides all sorts of technology, including a sea floor mapping system, coring devices for collecting samples, cameras, and a remotely-controlled vehicle for underwater deployments.

The scientists will collect water, mud, and coral samples near the BP oil disaster, as well as at a site where oil is naturally seeping.

"We're going to be comparing oil released by human action, oil pollution if you like, with oil that's put into the environment due to natural processes," said Dr. Ian McDonald, Cruise Chief Scientist from Florida State University.

The Falkor also comes with a team of technicians to operate the equipment. The best part is the researchers get to use the vessel free for one month. The ship is owned by the Schmidt Ocean Institute. The institute was created by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

"It enables us to go out on a cruise we couldn't afford otherwise, and how all this incredible technology that they provide as part of our research program," said Highsmith. "So it's a win-win all the way around. We're very excited about this to be honest with you. Right now, it's a one-shot opportunity and we tend to make the most of it."

The research mission will also give the scientists an opportunity to see if the ship meets all of their needs. The Falkor is still in the test phase, and will become fully operational next year.

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