Thursday, May 19, 2016 - 10:19am

Marine scientist Samantha Joye organized a rapid response research cruise to assess the impact of a crude oil spill approximately 90 miles south of Timbalier Island, Louisiana:

The U.S. Coast Guard responded to the spill reportedly discharged from a Shell subsea wellhead flow line on May 12.

"Our goal for this response mission is to document the distribution of oil in the water column, to characterize the hydrocarbons and to assess the fate of oil—including biological oxidation, assimilation and movement into the food web—and formation of marine oil snow," said Joye, the Georgia Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences, who will be overseeing the efforts from Athens. "These efforts will help inform other responders and will further advance our understanding of oil spill impacts on the Gulf ecosystem."

The cruise aboard the R/V Tommy Munro, mobilized by the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs into the Gulf, or ECOGIG, consortium, left Monday night from the port of Biloxi, Mississippi. It includes ECOGIG scientists from UGA, Georgia Institute of Technology, Florida State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

"The ECOGIG consortium has invested a great deal to assure we are ready to mobilize in short order, should the need arise. When we learned of this oil spill, we secured a ship and arranged a science party within days," Joye said.

The Coast Guard said an estimated 88,200 gallons were reportedly released from the pipeline and that the source of the discharge has been reported as secured.

Fortunately not as dramatic at the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, this new spill has largely remained on the perifery of mainstream news. But it has not escaped the attention of Joye and colleagues, who were prepared to respond immediately. Just back last night, the assessment team should be able to clarify the extent of the spill. The readiness and response capability is one major advance in the wake of the 2010 disaster: reckoning with reality. Pipelines leak. We have to be prepared to act when they do.

Image:  May 12, 2016, crude oil spill approximately 90 miles south of Timbalier Island, Louisiana, on the biological communities in the Gulf of Mexico's water column. (Photos courtesy of Bonny Schumaker)