text-only page produced automatically by LIFT Text Transcoder Skip all navigation and go to page contentSkip top navigation and go to directorate navigationSkip top navigation and go to page navigation
National Science Foundation
News
design element
News
News From the Field
For the News Media
Special Reports
Research Overviews
NSF-Wide Investments
Speeches & Lectures
NSF Current Newsletter
Multimedia Gallery
News Archive
News by Research Area
Arctic & Antarctic
Astronomy & Space
Biology
Chemistry & Materials
Computing
Earth & Environment
Education
Engineering
Mathematics
Nanoscience
People & Society
Physics
 

Email this pagePrint this page


Press Release 10-101
Gulf Oil Spill: Mississippi River Hydrology May Help Reduce Oil Onshore

Scientists tracking wetland characteristics find potential good news

Aerial photo of Gulf wetlands.

Mississippi River hydrology may hold a possible answer for protecting fragile Gulf wetlands.
Credit and Larger Version

June 17, 2010

View videos of Dr. Robert Twilley discussing the Gulf oil spill on World Ocean Day at the National Press Club, Washington, DC, on June 10, 2010 (part 1, part 2).

The Gulf of Mexico: what role will the Mississippi River play in oil washing ashore and into delta wetlands?

One of the spill's greatest environmental threats is to Louisiana's wetlands, scientists believe.

But there may be good news ahead.

Scientists affiliated with the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED), a National Science Foundation (NSF) Science and Technology Center headquartered at the University of Minnesota, are using long-term field plots in Louisiana's Wax Lake Delta to measure the baseline conditions of, and track the effects of the oil spill on, coastal Louisiana wetlands.

Robert Twilley and Guerry Holm of Louisiana State University (LSU) are investigating the degree to which two delta wetland characteristics may help mitigate oil contamination.

Fresh water head, as it's called, the slope of the water's surface from a river delta to the sea, and residence time of river-mouth wetlands, the time it takes water to move through a wetland at a river's mouth, are important to understanding how delta wetlands will respond to the oil spill, say the researchers.

"Since the Mississippi River is currently at a relatively high stage, we expect the river's high volume of freshwater to act as a hydrologic barrier, keeping oil from moving into the Wax Lake Delta from the sea," says Twilley.

Twilley and Holm are performing baseline and damage assessments on the plants and soils of, and comparing oil degradation processes in, freshwater and saltwater Louisiana wetlands.

"The Mississippi River's 'plumbing' provides a potential benefit to reducing the movement of oil onshore from shelf waters," says Twilley.

The Mississippi's flow has been altered for flood control to protect people and infrastructure in this working delta.

River diversion structures--concrete gates built within the levees of the river--may be operated, however, to allow water to flow to specific coastal basins and floodways, says Twilley, "as a way to provide controlled floods."

The operational features of this system "downriver to the control structure near Venice, Louisiana," he says, "may provide a second line of defense against oil washing in."

But any strategy using Mississippi River hydrology must be one of clear options and tradeoffs, says H. Richard Lane, program director in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences, which funds NCED.

"As the river stage falls and protection diminishes," says Lane, "it becomes a question of how best to distribute this freshwater resource to defend the coast from the movement of oil onshore."

The answer, Twilley says, lies in the delicate balance of river, coastal and Gulf of Mexico processes "that must work in concert to benefit the incredible 'ecosystem services' this region provides to the nation."

Louisiana wetlands "play a vital role in protecting New Orleans from hurricane damage, providing habitat for wildlife, supporting economically important fisheries, and maintaining water quality," says Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, director of NCED.

"We must look at all options for protecting them for the future."

In addition to his NCED and LSU affiliations, Twilley is the recipient of an NSF rapid response oil spill grant.

This NSF grant is one of many Gulf oil spill-related rapid response awards made by the federal agency. NSF's response involves active research in social sciences, geosciences, computer simulation, engineering, biology, and other fields. So far, the Foundation has made more than 60 awards totaling nearly $7 million.

For more on the RAPID program, please see the RAPID guidelines.  See also a regularly updated list of RAPIDs targeting the Gulf oil spill response. Because RAPID grants are being awarded continuously, media can also contact Josh Chamot (jchamot@nsf.gov) in the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs for the latest information on granted awards.

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, cdybas@nsf.gov

Related Websites
NSF National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics: http://www.nced.umn.edu

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

 Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/

 

Dr. Robert Twilley discusses the Gulf oil spill on World Ocean Day at the National Press Club.
View a video.
Credit and Larger Version

Dr. Robert Twilley discusses the Gulf oil spill on World Ocean Day at the National Press Club.
View a video.
Credit and Larger Version

Image of Louisiana's Wax Lake Delta.
Scientists Robert Twilley and Guerry Holm are studying wetlands in Louisiana's Wax Lake Delta.
Credit and Larger Version

Photo of NCED undergraduate student surveying land development in the Wax Lake Delta.
NCED undergraduate student surveying land development in the Wax Lake Delta.
Credit and Larger Version

Sediment core showing layers of mineral and organic matter.
Mineral and organic matter accumulates as wetlands develop: how will oil affect the process?
Credit and Larger Version



Email this pagePrint this page
Back to Top of page