Scientists From Woods Hole Respond to Gulf Oil Spill

Woods Hole researchers sample oil from the ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico
Woods Hole scientists operate an ROV at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to sample the oil from the ruptured well. (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Soon after the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) administrators and investigators were among those whom BP and the federal government called for advice and assistance. What technologies might be used to determine why the blowout preventer failed? How much oil was flowing from the wellhead nearly a mile deep? Where was all the oil going? And how would it affect fragile Gulf ecosystems?

In this series of WHOI videos, Science in a Time of Crisis, learn about the role that WHOI scientists and their colleagues played in the effort to respond to the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Located in Cape Cod, Mass., WHOI has a long record of experience studying oil in marine environments as well as working in the deep ocean. See how scientists and engineers collaborated to find creative solutions to difficult problems--with some expanding existing lines of inquiry, and others applying tools and techniques in ways they hadn't anticipated before the spill. Science in a Time of Crisis highlights a few of their stories.

Oil Spill Pioneers: A look back at the pioneers and oil spill research that stretches back more than four decades at WHOI.

How Much Oil?: Scientists from WHOI provide the most accurate estimates of the amount of oil and gas that was entering the water from the ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sampling the Source: Scientists obtain the only samples of oil and gas directly from the broken riser pipe and blowout preventer and return them to the water's surface at pressure.  The samples then undergo extensive testing by scientists at WHOI headquarters in Falmouth, Mass.

Searching for the Plume:  WHOI Scientists found and mapped a plume of hydrocarbons beneath the surface of the water after the spill using the underwater vehicle AUV Sentry while aboard the R/V Endeavor.

Tracking the Currents: An underwater glider is deployed to map and monitor currents in the Gulf immediately after the spill and throughout the summer of 2010.  

Assessing the Impacts: WHOI scientists conducted a range of work to assess the impacts to the Gulf after the spill.  Research included tracking potential biological impacts in the Gulf, developing new methods to measure dispersants in the water, and surveying deep-water coral communities aboard the submersible Alvin and AUV Sentry near the ruptured well.

May 2011