Tracking The Impact Of Oil, Chemicals On Gulf Fish

When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the Louisiana coast in April, it caused the first major deepsea oil spill and became the first spill where chemical dispersants were used far below the water’s surface. Researchers have detected toxic microdroplets spreading in concentrations that may be lethal to wildlife. Several organizations are tracking the toxins at the surface of the gulf and coastal environments, home to more than 600 species of commercially or evolutionarily important fish.

To complement these efforts, Dan Janies, Ph.D., a biomedical researcher at The Ohio State University (OSU), and Prosanta Chakrabarty, an assistant professor of ichthyology at Louisiana State University, have adapted a program to monitor infectious diseases that Janies developed with Ohio Supercomputer Center and OSU resources. Their mapping project, DepthMap, will tell scientists more about the impact of the spill on species at different stages of their life cycles and habitats.

“We combine data from historical collections of fish species with dynamic maps of the oil spill in a Geographic Information System,” said Janies. “Put together, imagery on the spill and data on the pre-spill range of wildlife allow researchers a baseline from which to measure and predict the effects of the spill. We make the maps and underlying informatics tools available to a wide community of users via the web (depthmap.osu.edu), so others can leverage our work in clean-up efforts and research the impacts of the spill on any species of interest.”

Project lead: Daniel Janies, The Ohio State University
Research title: Analysis of baseline distribution records for wildlife affected by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill
Funding source: The Ohio State University