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Seminar: Charles Fisher, Pennsylvania State University – Department of Biology
March 21 @ 3:25 pm - 4:25 pm
UNC Marine Sciences’ is proud to host a seminar by Charles Fisher.
Title: Covered with Oil in the Ivory Tower
Abstract: During the spring of 2010 approximately 800 million liters of oil was released over almost 3 months at a depth of 1,500m from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. About 2.9 million liters of dispersant was applied at depth and another 3.8 million liters was applied at the sea surface in an effort to mitigate the adverse effects of the spill. Hydrocarbons and/or dispersants reached the deep sea floor via a deep-sea plume originating from the source and in the form of oil-containing marine snow raining down from the surface. Our group was asked by the US National Science Foundation and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to assist the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) program in assessing damage to deep sea ecosystems from the spill. Nothing quite like this had been done previously, so we found ourselves inventing techniques and protocols that were not only scientifically sound, but also defensible in a court of law. And, leading 6 cruises over the next 18 months to conduct the initial work. In this presentation I will review the development of the techniques we used to discover new coral communities below 1000m depth in the area of the spill using AUVs, how we identified and then quantified damage to individual corals and communities using ROVS and lab based analyses, and why we chose corals as the indicator taxa for impact to deep sea communities. I will present results from ongoing studies that are leading to an improved understanding of the biology of deep sea octocorals and their commensal ophiuroids, and our most recent data on the current state of the deep-sea coral ecosystems impacted by the spill. Finally, I will reflect on our discoveries in the context of the politics and economics of the oil spill and the NRDA process, on our responsibilities as scientists and on the impacts of litigation on scientific endeavors.