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Fieldwork

USGS Responds to Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico



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At approximately 10 p.m. on April 20, 2010, a devastating explosion occurred on the British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon drill rig, claiming the lives of 11 men. The drill rig, which sank on April 22, was located in the Gulf of Mexico about 50 miles off southeastern Louisiana. Federal authorities, both military and civilian, have been working onsite and around the clock to respond to and mitigate the impact of the resulting oil spill.

Mary Landry and Ken Salazar Landsat 7 image acquired by the USGS, showing the extent of the oil slick on May 1.
Above left: Rear Adm. Mary Landry (left), Federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon incident, speaks with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar as they conduct an aerial reconnaissance of the Gulf Coast on April 30, 2010, aboard a Coast Guard HC-144A Ocean Sentry aircraft. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall. [larger version]

Above right: Landsat 7 image acquired by the USGS, showing the extent of the oil slick on May 1. Landsat data are being used to monitor the extent and movement of the slick. [larger version]

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) personnel from all levels of the organization have been contributing to the recovery effort. USGS Director Marcia McNutt was asked by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to help coordinate the joint efforts of Federal scientists and BP engineers working at the BP command center in Houston, Texas, on several technological challenges and approaches to securing the damaged wellhead, capturing the leak, and controlling the spill.

Director McNutt, a distinguished scientist and administrator, has considerable experience in oceanography and applied ocean science. Most recently, before being confirmed as Director of the USGS, she served 12 years as President and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), which has a reputation for performing pioneering work in deep-sea engineering using autonomous and remotely operated vehicles.

Gas from the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead is burned by the drillship Discoverer Enterprise May 16, 2010, in a process known as flaring.
Above: Gas from the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead is burned by the drillship Discoverer Enterprise May 16, 2010, in a process known as flaring. Gas and oil from the wellhead were being brought to the surface via a tube that was placed inside the damaged pipe. U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley. [larger version]

In a Department of the Interior (DOI) press release issued May 7, Secretary Salazar noted that Director McNutt, in addition to her own expertise, "has access to the knowledge and expertise of thousands of USGS scientists and technicians."

Many of these scientists and technicians, from USGS offices around the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, have been gathering scientific data and information about the environmental impacts of the oil spill on affected coastal habitats. Their efforts include:

  • Collecting satellite imagery to assess the impact on wetlands and coasts
  • Developing maps showing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projections of the oil-spill trajectory with respect to DOI lands
  • Collecting samples to ascertain the sources and levels of toxicity to soils and water systems
  • Conducting tests to determine the causes of mortality of wildlife
  • Developing models that depict how local tidal and current conditions will interact with seafloor bathymetry to carry oil over barrier islands
  • Providing decision-support tools to help DOI land managers mitigate the effects of the oil spill and assist in restoration efforts

Cat Island, Mississippi, showing areas likely to be inundated or overwashed under conditions of moderate waves and spring tide.
Above: Cat Island, Mississippi, showing areas likely to be inundated or overwashed under conditions of moderate waves and spring tide. The risk of oil deposition on barrier islands can be identified by comparing island elevations to models of storm surge and wave runup. (For more information and link to a location map, please visit Barrier-Island Inundation and Overwash: Application to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.) [larger version]

For the latest information about the coordinated response to the oil spill, please visit "Deepwater Horizon Response—the Official Site of the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command" at http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/. For updates on USGS contributions, please visit "USGS Responds to Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill" at http://www.usgs.gov/deepwater_horizon/.


Related Web Sites
Deepwater Horizon Response—the Official Site of the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command
Deepwater Horizon Unified Command
USGS Responds to Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
USGS

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Fieldwork
cover story:
USGS Responds to Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

ResearchExtreme Storms Leave Coasts Vulnerable

Fish and Wildlife Face Risks as Climate Changes

Natural Gas Potential Assessed in Eastern Mediterranean

Outreach Open House in Florida

Meetings Vulnerability of Coasts to Sea-Level Rise

Awards Best Poster Award from Pacific Section AAPG

Publications May / June 2010 Publications


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