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Inadequate knowledge about the effects of deepwater oil well blowouts such as the Deepwater Horizon event of 2010 threatens scientists' ability to help manage and assess comparable events in the future, according to an article that a multi-author group of specialists will publish in the May issue of BioScience. Even federal "rapid response" grants awarded to study the Deepwater Horizon event were far more focused on near-surface effects than on the deepwater processes that the BioScience authors judge to be most in need of more research.
The article, by a team led by Charles H. Peterson of the University of North Carolina, argues that a fundamentally new approach to the study of deepwater oil spills is needed. Previous research has focused mainly on effects on organisms found near the sea surface and on coasts. The new approach would also stress how oil and associated gas released at depth move through the sea and affect subsurface and bottom-dwelling organisms. The new approach is all the more important because the oil industry is now putting most of its exploration efforts into deep water.
Peterson and his colleagues point out that existing policies and legislation have notably failed to provide for research initiated promptly after a spill has been detected. This has prevented studies that might have guided emergency response procedures two years ago, in particular studies of the effects of chemical dispersants. These were used extensively while the Deepwater Horizon spill was in progress, although there is little consensus on their effectiveness.
There remain "serious gaps" in background information needed for longer-term assessments of comparable spills, according to Peterson and his coauthors. Much more information is needed about deep-sea ecology and the processes by which oil released at depth is degraded by microbes, for example. The gaps impede not only litigation and the improvement of government policy but also any attempts to restore damaged ecosystems.
The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the May 2012 issue of BioScience is as follows:
A Tale of Two Spills: Novel Science and Policy Implications of an Emerging New Oil Spill Model
Charles H. Peterson, Sean S. Anderson, Gary N. Cherr, Richard F. Ambrose, Shelly Anghera, Steven Bay, Michael Blum, Robert Condon, Thomas A. Dean, Monty Graham, Michael Guzy, Stephanie Hampton, Samantha Joye, John Lambrinos, Bruce Mate, Douglas Meffert, Sean P. Powers, Ponisseril Somasundaran, Robert B. Spies, Caz M. Taylor, Ronald Tjeerdema, and E. Eric Adams
Rethinking the Origin of Chronic Diseases
Mohammadali M. Shoja, R. Shane Tubbs, Alireza Ghaffari, Marios Loukas, and Paul S. Agutter
Prospects for Sustainable Logging in Tropical Forests
Barbara L. Zimmerman and Cyril F. Kormos
Energy and Matter: Differences in Discourse in Physical and Biological Sciences Can Be Confusing for Introductory Biology Students
Laurel M. Hartley, Jennifer Momsen, April Maskiewicz, and Charlene D'Avanzo
Studying Biodiversity: Is a New Paradigm Really Needed?
James D. Nichols, Evan G. Cooch, Jonathan M. Nichols, and John R. Sauer
Finding Common Ground for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
Belinda Reyers, Stephen Polasky, Heather Tallis, Harold A. Mooney, and Anne Larigauderie
Why Ecosystem-Based Management May Fail without Changes to Tool Development and Financing
Corrie Curtice, Daniel C. Dunn, Jason J. Roberts, Sarah D. Carr, and Patrick N. Halpin
Jennifer Ann Williams
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