USM Gulf Coast Research Lab still looking into oil spill impact

Published: Apr. 18, 2013 at 6:16 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 19, 2013 at 9:54 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Saturday marks three years since the Deepwater Horizon explosion and BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This week, WLOX News has been taking a closer look at the ongoing impact of that disaster.

USM's Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs has been involved in oil spill research the past three years. And while most of us would like some answers about the effects of the oil spill, reliable science takes time.

As one of the researchers put it:  It's complicated. There's nothing about it that's easy.

Dr. Jay Grimes is interested in microscopic elements of the oil spill. His researchers are doing DNA testing on oil-eating bacteria called "vibrios."

"We're looking right now at what role to the vibrios play in the degradation of oil in the environment, primarily the ocean," said Dr. Grimes.

He says while oil-spill research is beginning to yield some results, critical questions remain.

"One of which is: How much oil is still out there? We hear different stories, contradictory stories saying most of the oil is gone. We hear other stories saying a fairly large percentage, somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of the oil is still there, deep," Dr. Grimes explained.

The research lab's oil spill work runs the gamut from petri dishes to crab sampling.

"Looking at microbes, to parasites, then all the way up to whale sharks, which we do some of the work in fisheries here. So, it really spans the entire gamut of ecological processes in the gulf," said fisheries researcher Read Hendon.

Hendon says GCRL is well-equipped for oil-spill research, given its decades of studying gulf waters and marine life.

"Taking what we know as scientists with our training, moving forward with sound, vetted processes and sound, vetted sampling to take an independent look at how things progress and what the impacts may be," he said.

"There are always more questions than answers," said Dr. Joe Griffitt, whose lab has been continuously involved in oil spill research since the disaster.

Answers are coming, but slowly.

"You've got a lot of bright people working very, very hard on this all over the country. And we're all trying to understand what the effects are. But it's a very complex system and was a very complex event. And it's not easy trying to understand all this. We're doing our best. It has taken time and it will take more time," said Dr. Griffitt.

The scientists say there's a big misperception about funding. While many people may think there's lots of money available for oil spill research, they say the truth is, a lot of research institutions are competing for very limited grant dollars.

Copyright 2013 WLOX. All rights reserved.