Discovery Park International

Natural and Unnatural Oil in the Gulf of Mexico: Lessons of Comparison for the BP Discharge

March 3 @ 3:30 PM - 4:30 PM - Stewart Center Room 202

Ian MacDonald is a professor of oceanography in the Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science at FSU. He received his Ph.D. in Oceanography from Texas A&M University in 1990 for dissertation work on the spatial ecology of natural hydrocarbon seeps. His subsequent research has retained a strong Gulf of Mexico focus, but includes work on the deep-sea biology of hydrothermal vents and the Arctic Ocean. He specializes in application of imaging technology and satellite remote sensing.

Existence of abundant natural hydrocarbon seeps in the Gulf of Mexico has been cited as a factor that may have pre-conditioned the gulf ecosystem better to rebound from the pollution dose received due to the 84-day discharge from the BP well. The natural seeps, it has been suggested, are a hydrocarbon-rich environment promoting the prevalence of oil- and gas-consuming bacteria, strains of which might then consume oil discharged from the BP well. Moreover, the wide-spread occurrence of natural seepage provides a alternate, background source of hydrocarbons throughout the Gulf. Oil from these natural sources, goes this argument, might be mistaken for oil from the BP discharge. The seminar reviews the distribution and characteristics of the gulf's natural seeps with respect to the deep-sea ecosystem and recent results from remote sensing quantification of seep magnitude and distribution. Comparison to the BP blow-out indicates that hydrocarbon discharge from the blow-out was 8 to 9 orders of magnitude more concentrated in time and space than the background rate from natural seeps. This very large scale difference would suggest that natural seeps are not a sufficient analog for the fate and effect of the BP discharge.  

Sponsored by: Global Sustainability Initiative, Center for the Environment, Energy Center, Purdue Oil Spill Community, Purdue Water Community, College of Engineering, School of Mechanical Engineering

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