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MSU capabilities on call for oil spill help
BILOXI – Oil spewing from BP’s destroyed Deepwater Horizon rig had not reached the Mississippi coastline by mid-May, but Mississippi State University experts were already working to help with the problem.
An estimated 5,000 barrels of crude oil have been spewing daily from the BP well that exploded April 20. Crude oil is a volatile mixture of compounds that are flammable, sticky, foul-smelling, persistent in the environment, poisonous and cancer-causing.
Crude oil coats whatever it comes in contact with and is insoluble in water. This coating action means it hampers respiration in plants and animals, often leading to death, and its presence compromises the food supply.
MSU is the lead institution in the Northern Gulf Institute, or NGI, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cooperative institute that partners with the University of Southern Mississippi, Louisiana State University, Florida State University and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama.
NGI is using remote sensing imagery that will provide data, including ocean current models and measurements, to those responding to the Deepwater Horizon incident. The institute also is offering baseline habitat and animal sampling and oil burn smoke cloud modeling.
Patricia Knight, director of MSU’s Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi, said three of her scientists have been directly involved in the oil spill recovery. Ben Posadas, an Extension/Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station economist, has expertise in the economics of natural disasters, seafood processing and marine aquaculture production. He is representing the Mississippi Departments of Environmental Quality and Marine Resources at the NOAA Technical Working Group on Human Use Impacts dedicated to the oil spill.
“Since May 7, this group has conducted daily benchmark monitoring of human uses of the state’s marine resources,” Knight said. “We are developing a website to provide information about the potential economic impacts of the oil spill to the state of Mississippi.”
Dave Burrage, an Extension marine resources specialist, works with commercial and recreational fisheries and non-point pollution abatement. He has been fielding calls and working with seafood industry clientele since the spill began.
“Mr. Burrage has engaged the Vietnamese-American community, which would be an otherwise unreached audience,” Knight said. “The Electronic Logbook Program is used to document and lessen the effects of fishery closures on the Gulf shrimp industry. Mr. Burrage’s input was critical in the opening of some areas for fishing to mitigate the impact of the spill on the industry.”
MDEQ asked Mark Woodrey, a MAFES researcher, to serve as a trustee on the Avian Workgroup, and he is a technical member of the Marsh Bird Sub-Working Group that is evaluating the long-term ecological effects of the oil spill on the secretive marsh birds.
“Dr. Woodrey is coordinating the collection of environmental monitoring data for pre-spill assessment at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Moss Point,” Knight said.
MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Extension Service are also involved in response efforts. Dr. Carla Huston, an associate professor of pathobiology and population medicine, said the college’s disaster response team is part of the state’s preparedness efforts under the direction of the Mississippi Board of Animal Health.
“CVM personnel are available to serve the state in both clinical and emergency management positions,” Huston said. “Veterinarians and veterinary students have been organized to respond as needed to the oiled bird and mammal recovery response. CVM maintains a cache of supplies and pharmaceuticals that can be utilized in the event of a deployment or response.”
CVM scientists have substantial expertise in fish, bird and mammal immunology, and they can assess immunological and infectious disease processes to evaluate short- and long-term effects of environmental stress. CVM can evaluate molecular changes and conduct detailed pathological analysis to identify changes in particular organ systems, feather structure or other changes caused by exposure to petroleum.
“Dr. Henry Wan is interested in evaluating microbial populations and their changes in response to this spill,” said Dr. Stephen Pruett, department head of CVM basic sciences. “In addition to his training in microbiology, he is a computational biologist and can develop mathematical models to describe and ultimately predict effects of contamination on microbial populations.”
The MSU Extension Service has offices and agents in each county trained to provide community education and outreach information across Mississippi.
“We have about 280 Extension faculty and staff with the Incident Command System training required of individuals responding to disasters,” said Joe Street, Extension associate director. “Seven team members are trained to work with hazardous materials. Others will be trained in early June and may be involved in clean-up efforts.”
In addition, MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering has extensive collaborations with federal, state, local and private agencies, institutions and foundations for research, education and service projects focused on the northern Gulf of Mexico, including the inter-relationships between gulf waters, coastal land and the atmosphere. The engineering college offers five major elements in this effort—coastal monitoring and mapping, gas hydrates prevention and management, hazardous waste remediation, environmental monitoring and sampling, and estimation and prediction of natural gas and oil flow.
Other MSU resources on standby to assist include the Social Science Research Center, the GeoSystems Research Institute, the Department of Geosciences, the Institute for Clean Energy Technology, the MSU Chemical Laboratory and the Life Science and Biotechnology Institute.
More information on MSU’s response to the Gulf oil spill can be found on MSUcares.