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Study Suggests Dispersants Used in BP Oil Spill May Cause Disturbance in Gulf Food Chain

By Rhonda Miller | Published 02 Aug 2012 10:53pm | comments
Alice Ortmann, a senior marine scientist at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, is lead researcher on the study of the effect of dispersant on microscopic organisms in the Gulf of Mexico.

A study on the effects of the BP oil spill found the dispersant Corexit may have caused disturbance in the food chain.  MPB’s Rhonda Miller has more on research by Alabama scientists.

"So this is my lab here, and we’ve got people filtering water..."

Alice Ortmann is a senior marine scientist at Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab. Researchers are filtering water to collect microscopic plants and animals. Ortmann says the study of the oil and dispersant began in Summer 2011 by pumping water directly from the Gulf of Mexico into 25 large barrels at the lab. Then scientists added oil from BP’s Macondo well.

"The barrels that we added oil by itself to, were not any different from the barrels we didn’t add anything to. So the addition of oil didn’t seem to have an effect."

Ortmann says the dispersant Corexit did have an impact.

"Whenever we added dispersant, either by itself or with the oil, we saw a loss of the phytoplankton and the ciliates, which are a group of small animals that would eat the bacteria. It looks like it killed off or interrupted the growth of the tiny animals and the tiny plants. This was a very quick process. We saw it within 24 to 48 hours."

Ortmann says the study reveals a possible disturbance in the food chain, which could potentially impact the amount of food available to fish. The lab is continuing its research to understand the impact of the oil spill. 

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Alice Ortmann, a senior marine scientist at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, is lead researcher on the study of the effect of dispersant on microscopic organisms in the Gulf of Mexico.


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