Concept: Gulf of Mexico
Acute catastrophic events can cause significant damage to marine environments in a short time period and may have devastating long-term impacts. In April 2010 the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon (DWH) offshore oil rig exploded, releasing an estimated 760 million liters of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This study examines the potential effects of oil spill exposure on coral larvae of the Florida Keys. Larvae of the brooding coral, Porites astreoides, and the broadcast spawning coral, Montastraea faveolata, were exposed to multiple concentrations of BP Horizon source oil (crude, weathered and WAF), oil in combination with the dispersant Corexit® 9500 (CEWAF), and dispersant alone, and analyzed for behavior, settlement, and survival. Settlement and survival of P. astreoides and M. faveolata larvae decreased with increasing concentrations of WAF, CEWAF and Corexit® 9500, however the degree of the response varied by species and solution. P. astreoides larvae experienced decreased settlement and survival following exposure to 0.62 ppm source oil, while M. faveolata larvae were negatively impacted by 0.65, 1.34 and 1.5 ppm, suggesting that P. astreoides larvae may be more tolerant to WAF exposure than M. faveolata larvae. Exposure to medium and high concentrations of CEWAF (4.28/18.56 and 30.99/35.76 ppm) and dispersant Corexit® 9500 (50 and 100 ppm), significantly decreased larval settlement and survival for both species. Furthermore, exposure to Corexit® 9500 resulted in settlement failure and complete larval mortality after exposure to 50 and 100 ppm for M. faveolata and 100 ppm for P. astreoides. These results indicate that exposure of coral larvae to oil spill related contaminants, particularly the dispersant Corexit® 9500, has the potential to negatively impact coral settlement and survival, thereby affecting the resilience and recovery of coral reefs following exposure to oil and dispersants.
Delphinids produce large numbers of short duration, broadband echolocation clicks which may be useful for species classification in passive acoustic monitoring efforts. A challenge in echolocation click classification is to overcome the many sources of variability to recognize underlying patterns across many detections. An automated unsupervised network-based classification method was developed to simulate the approach a human analyst uses when categorizing click types: Clusters of similar clicks were identified by incorporating multiple click characteristics (spectral shape and inter-click interval distributions) to distinguish within-type from between-type variation, and identify distinct, persistent click types. Once click types were established, an algorithm for classifying novel detections using existing clusters was tested. The automated classification method was applied to a dataset of 52 million clicks detected across five monitoring sites over two years in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). Seven distinct click types were identified, one of which is known to be associated with an acoustically identifiable delphinid (Risso’s dolphin) and six of which are not yet identified. All types occurred at multiple monitoring locations, but the relative occurrence of types varied, particularly between continental shelf and slope locations. Automatically-identified click types from autonomous seafloor recorders without verifiable species identification were compared with clicks detected on sea-surface towed hydrophone arrays in the presence of visually identified delphinid species. These comparisons suggest potential species identities for the animals producing some echolocation click types. The network-based classification method presented here is effective for rapid, unsupervised delphinid click classification across large datasets in which the click types may not be known a priori.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published almost 3 years ago
A large region of low-dissolved-oxygen bottom waters (hypoxia) forms nearly every summer in the northern Gulf of Mexico because of nutrient inputs from the Mississippi River Basin and water column stratification. Policymakers developed goals to reduce the area of hypoxic extent because of its ecological, economic, and commercial fisheries impacts. However, the goals remain elusive after 30 y of research and monitoring and 15 y of goal-setting and assessment because there has been little change in river nitrogen concentrations. An intergovernmental Task Force recently extended to 2035 the deadline for achieving the goal of a 5,000-km(2) 5-y average hypoxic zone and set an interim load target of a 20% reduction of the spring nitrogen loading from the Mississippi River by 2025 as part of their adaptive management process. The Task Force has asked modelers to reassess the loading reduction required to achieve the 2035 goal and to determine the effect of the 20% interim load reduction. Here, we address both questions using a probabilistic ensemble of four substantially different hypoxia models. Our results indicate that, under typical weather conditions, a 59% reduction in Mississippi River nitrogen load is required to reduce hypoxic area to 5,000 km(2) The interim goal of a 20% load reduction is expected to produce an 18% reduction in hypoxic area over the long term. However, due to substantial interannual variability, a 25% load reduction is required before there is 95% certainty of observing any hypoxic area reduction between consecutive 5-y assessment periods.
A northern Gulf of Mexico (GoM) cetacean unusual mortality event (UME) involving primarily bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama began in February 2010 and continued into 2014. Overlapping in time and space with this UME was the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, which was proposed as a contributing cause of adrenal disease, lung disease, and poor health in live dolphins examined during 2011 in Barataria Bay, Louisiana. To assess potential contributing factors and causes of deaths for stranded UME dolphins from June 2010 through December 2012, lung and adrenal gland tissues were histologically evaluated from 46 fresh dead non-perinatal carcasses that stranded in Louisiana (including 22 from Barataria Bay), Mississippi, and Alabama. UME dolphins were tested for evidence of biotoxicosis, morbillivirus infection, and brucellosis. Results were compared to up to 106 fresh dead stranded dolphins from outside the UME area or prior to the DWH spill. UME dolphins were more likely to have primary bacterial pneumonia (22% compared to 2% in non-UME dolphins, P = .003) and thin adrenal cortices (33% compared to 7% in non-UME dolphins, P = .003). In 70% of UME dolphins with primary bacterial pneumonia, the condition either caused or contributed significantly to death. Brucellosis and morbillivirus infections were detected in 7% and 11% of UME dolphins, respectively, and biotoxin levels were low or below the detection limit, indicating that these were not primary causes of the current UME. The rare, life-threatening, and chronic adrenal gland and lung diseases identified in stranded UME dolphins are consistent with exposure to petroleum compounds as seen in other mammals. Exposure of dolphins to elevated petroleum compounds present in coastal GoM waters during and after the DWH oil spill is proposed as a cause of adrenal and lung disease and as a contributor to increased dolphin deaths.
A recent hydrographic survey of the Florida Current at 27°N revealed an enhanced upward flux of nutrients along the Florida coast. Geostrophic flow of the Gulf Stream through the narrow Florida Straits causes an uplift of the nutricline toward its western edge, shoaling the mixed layers into the base of the euphotic zone. At a nearshore station, nitrate, phosphate, and silicate concentrations reached 19, 1.4, and 10 µM, respectively, at a water depth of 27 m. Furthermore, nutrient vertical gradients below the mixed layer increased with decreasing seafloor depth toward the Florida coast. The estimated vertical eddy diffusive nutrient fluxes across diapycnal surfaces reached 0.40-83.7, 0.03-6.24, and 0.24-45.5 mmol m(-2) d(-1) for nitrate, phosphate, and silicate, respectively, along the shore. Estimated fluxes span a wide range due to the range of diffusivity measured. The lower end of estimated fluxes are comparable to open ocean values, but higher end of estimates are two orders of magnitude greater than those observed in open ocean. The diapycnal nutrient fluxes declined rapidly offshore as a result of decreasing vertical gradients of nutrient concentration.
Tunas are apex predators in marine food webs that can accumulate mercury (Hg) to high concentrations and provide more Hg (∼40%) to the U.S population than any other source. We measured Hg concentrations in 1292 Atlantic bluefin tuna (ABFT, Thunnus thynnus) captured in the Northwest Atlantic from 2004 to 2012. ABFT Hg concentrations and variability increased nonlinearly with length, weight, and age, ranging from 0.25 to 3.15 mg kg(-1), and declined significantly at a rate of 0.018 ± 0.003 mg kg(-1) per year or 19% over an 8-year period from the 1990s to the early 2000s. Notably, this decrease parallels comparably reduced anthropogenic Hg emission rates in North America and North Atlantic atmospheric Hg(0) concentrations during this period, suggesting that recent efforts to decrease atmospheric Hg loading have rapidly propagated up marine food webs to a commercially important species. This is the first evidence to suggest that emission reduction efforts have resulted in lower Hg concentrations in large, long-lived fish.
Sediment cores were collected from three sites (1000-1200 m water depth) in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico from December 2010 to June 2011 to assess changes in benthic foraminiferal density related to the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) event (April-July 2010, 1500 m water depth). Short-lived radioisotope geochronologies (210Pb, 234Th), organic geochemical assessments, and redox metal concentrations were determined to relate changes in sediment accumulation rate, contamination, and redox conditions with benthic foraminiferal density. Cores collected in December 2010 indicated a decline in density (80-93%). This decline was characterized by a decrease in benthic foraminiferal density and benthic foraminiferal accumulation rate (BFAR) in the surface 10 mm relative to the down-core mean in all benthic foraminifera, including the dominant genera (Bulimina spp., Uvigerina spp., and Cibicidoides spp.). Cores collected in February 2011 documented a site-specific response. There was evidence of a recovery in the benthic foraminiferal density and BFAR at the site closest to the wellhead (45 NM, NE). However, the site farther afield (60 NM, NE) recorded a continued decline in benthic foraminiferal density and BFAR down to near-zero values. This decline in benthic foraminiferal density occurred simultaneously with abrupt increases in sedimentary accumulation rates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations, and changes in redox conditions. Persistent reducing conditions (as many as 10 months after the event) in the surface of these core records were a possible cause of the decline. Another possible cause was the increase (2-3 times background) in PAH’s, which are known to cause benthic foraminifera mortality and inhibit reproduction. Records of benthic foraminiferal density coupled with short-lived radionuclide geochronology and organic geochemistry were effective in quantifying the benthic response and will continue to be a valuable tool in determining the long-term effects of the DWH event on a larger spatial scale.
Discovery of a spawning ground reveals diverse migration strategies in Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus)
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 4 years ago
Atlantic bluefin tuna are a symbol of both the conflict between preservationist and utilitarian views of top ocean predators, and the struggle to reach international consensus on the management of migratory species. Currently, Atlantic bluefin tuna are managed as an early-maturing eastern stock, which spawns in the Mediterranean Sea, and a late-maturing western stock, which spawns in the Gulf of Mexico. However, electronic tagging studies show that many bluefin tuna, assumed to be of a mature size, do not visit either spawning ground during the spawning season. Whether these fish are spawning in an alternate location, skip-spawning, or not spawning until an older age affects how vulnerable this species is to anthropogenic stressors including exploitation. We use larval collections to demonstrate a bluefin tuna spawning ground in the Slope Sea, between the Gulf Stream and northeast United States continental shelf. We contend that western Atlantic bluefin tuna have a differential spawning migration, with larger individuals spawning in the Gulf of Mexico, and smaller individuals spawning in the Slope Sea. The current life history model, which assumes only Gulf of Mexico spawning, overestimates age at maturity for the western stock. Furthermore, individual tuna occupy both the Slope Sea and Mediterranean Sea in separate years, contrary to the prevailing view that individuals exhibit complete spawning-site fidelity. Overall, this complexity of spawning migrations questions whether there is complete independence in the dynamics of eastern and western Atlantic bluefin tuna and leads to lower estimates of the vulnerability of this species to exploitation and other anthropogenic stressors.
The emulsification of oil at the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) well head relegated a large proportion of resultant hydrocarbon plumes to the deep sea, facilitated the incorporation of oil droplets into microbial and planktonic food web, and limited the severity of direct, wetland oiling to coastal Louisiana. Nevertheless, many transient fish and invertebrate species rely on offshore surface waters for egg and larval transport before settling in coastal habitats, thereby potentially impacting the recruitment of transient species to coastal nursery habitats quite distant from the well site. We compared the utilization of salt-marsh habitats by transient and resident nekton before and after the DWH accident using data obtained from an oyster reef restoration project in coastal Alabama. Our sampling activities began in the summer preceding the DWH spill and continued almost two years following the accident. Overall, we did not find significant differences in the recruitment of marsh-associated resident and transient nekton in coastal Alabama following the DWH accident. Our results, therefore, provide little evidence for severe acute or persistent oil-induced impacts on organisms that complete their life cycle within the estuary and those that spent portions of their life history in potentially contaminated offshore surface waters prior to their recruitment to nearshore habitats. Our negative findings are consistent with other assessments of nekton in coastal vegetated habitats and bolster the notion that, despite the presence of localized hydrocarbon enrichments in coastal habitats outside of Louisiana the most severe oil impacts were relegated to coastal Louisiana and the deep sea. Analyzing all the information learned from this accident will undoubtedly provide a synthesis of what has or has not been affected in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, which when put in context with oil spill studies elsewhere should improve our ability to avert and manage the negative consequences of such accidents.
The blowout of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) drilling rig in 2010 released an unprecedented amount of oil at depth (1,500 m) into the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). Sedimentary geochemical data from an extensive area (∼194,000 km(2)) was used to characterize the amount, chemical signature, distribution, and extent of the DWH oil deposited on the seafloor in 2010-2011 from coastal to deep-sea areas in the GoM. The analysis of numerous hydrocarbon compounds (N = 158) and sediment cores (N = 2,613) suggests that, 1.9 ± 0.9 × 10(4) metric tons of hydrocarbons (>C9 saturated and aromatic fractions) were deposited in 56% of the studied area, containing 21± 10% (up to 47%) of the total amount of oil discharged and not recovered from the DWH spill. Examination of the spatial trends and chemical diagnostic ratios indicate large deposition of weathered DWH oil in coastal and deep-sea areas and negligible deposition on the continental shelf (behaving as a transition zone in the northern GoM). The large-scale analysis of deposited hydrocarbons following the DWH spill helps understanding the possible long-term fate of the released oil in 2010, including sedimentary transformation processes, redistribution of deposited hydrocarbons, and persistence in the environment as recycled petrocarbon.