Erin B. – BASIS Flagstaff

BASIS Flagstaff Senior Erin B.

Oily Ocean

Project/blog link: Oily Ocean
BASIS Advisor: Alicia Vaughan/ Tandi Pyeatt
Internship location: Soderblom Residence
Onsite Mentor: Larry Soderblom, PhD, Research Scientist, retired

Project Abstract

Oil spills affect oceanic habitats on every level. Because of this, a lot of time, money, and resources are spent to efficiently and effectively remove the contaminate from the surface of the water, or so it seems. In some of history’s largest spills, companies have used a chemical called a dispersant to break polar bonds within the oil and cause it to disperse into the water. This makes it appear as though the oil has been cleaned up, when in reality, there is no less oil in the ocean than before. These chemicals are incredibly harmful to people and the environment alike, and they may be completely unnecessary to begin with. Phytoplankton, one of the very bases of the aquatic food chain, may be able to metabolize the oil all by themselves, rendering other forms of clean-up, including dispersants, superfluous. This means companies and agencies could instead redirect funds to cleaning up shorelines and forego the damaging chemicals altogether. My project focuses on a specific species of phytoplankton, called a diatom, and its ability to do such a task. I will be modeling my project specifically around the conditions of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill by exposing cultures of a diatom (chosen because it inhabits the Louisiana Bay) with various amounts of crude petroleum. Hopefully, my research will illustrate that in the event of future spills, the best path of action will simply be to allow the ocean to clean itself.

Oily Ocean