UWA lands grant to study oil spill impact

Published 1:59 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2011

LIVINGSTON – Three University of West Alabama professors in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics recently received a $45,310 grant from the Marine Environmental Sciences Consortium for study of the effects of the recent oil spill on Alabama’s gulf coast.

Provided by British Petroleum, the funding will allow the professors to conduct research at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, the Consortium’s home, to determine the potential effects of the company’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Dr. Brian S. Burnes, Dr. John N. McCall and Dr. Lee E. Stanton, will examine the impact that oiling may have on the ecology of Alabama and Louisiana intertidal salt marsh systems, which serve as the basis for Alabama’s seafood industry. As proposed, their research will evaluate the long-term response of the salt marsh community at several levels, including plant, microbial, and animal communities.

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The research proposal, “Measuring habitat utilization, plant growth rates and secondary productivity in response to oiling in a Northern Gulf of Mexico salt marsh” is one that the professors hope will serve to improve cleanup and restoration efforts.

“This presents an opportunity to foster collaborations within the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and, perhaps more importantly, to expose UWA students to real-world research that focuses on an issue that has had a devastating impact on the ecology and economy in the northern Gulf Coast,” said Dr. Venkat Sharma, natural sciences and mathematics dean.

Burnes, associate professor of biology, received a doctorate in applied biology from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2000. His research includes microbial communities in both terrestrial and aquatic systems in response anthropogenic impact in the coastal zone. In Alabama coastal systems, he has measured human impacts on water quality throughout the Weeks Bay Drainage basin.

McCall, professor of biology, received a doctorate in zoology from LSU in 1992. He has conducted research in the area of evolutionary ecology, and much of his fieldwork focuses on interactions between fish and their invertebrate prey. In addition, McCall has worked in many coastal wetland systems throughout Alabama, Florida and Louisiana, investigating predator prey relationships between macro- and meiofauna.

Stanton, assistant professor of biology, received a doctorate in oceanography and coastal science from Louisiana State University in 2005. He has worked throughout wetland ecosystems in Alabama, Louisiana and Florida, examining the effects of nutrient addition and measuring the resulting changes in plant community structure; macrofaunal utilization trajectories after wetland restoration; and invasive species’ impacts on wetland ecosystem function.

Dr. Yun Ho Kim, assistant professor of chemistry, will also take part in the project, offering assistance in identifying a signature of BP oil in marsh sediments.

Burnes, McCall and Stanton will present a portion of their findings at a symposium co-sponsored by the Alabama Academy of Sciences and Jacksonville State University at JSU on March 4.

Research funded by the BP grant is currently underway and will continue through the rest of the year. The projected timetable for this portion of the project is one year, with potential for 10 years of future funding once complete.