HOUGHTON — A good thing has come from the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Some of the proceeds from the penalties assessed are being used to fund environmental research, including a project involving Michigan Technological University and five other universities.
Louisiana State University is leading the research to study how coastal land loss restoration practices impact ecosystems in coastal marshes. The project just received a $2.1 million competitive grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s RESTORE science program.
The overall goal of the research is to understand how river diversions and the resulting salt water concentration changes affect plants, animals and their interactions with each other in natural and man-made coastal marshes.
In addition to LSU and Michigan Tech, collaborating universities are Rutgers, University of Florida, University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.
Michigan Tech’s principal investigator on the project is Jill Olin, a research scientist at Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center. She has a background in community ecology of marine and coastal ecosystems.
She aims to use naturally occurring markers or ‘ecological tracers’ to help understand the responses of aquatic and terrestrial species that inhabit coastal marsh habitats to efforts aimed at reducing land erosion along the Gulf of Mexico coastline.
Olin has worked in coastal Louisiana for a number of years. Her role in the research will be to evaluate the presence of fish at various concentrations of salinity or saltiness, to determine whether or not fish are using restored or natural marshes. One of her research interests is developing ecosystem models to evaluate the effects of environmental change
“The Gulf Coast of Louisiana has lost more than 4,800 kilometers of coastal land area since the 1930’s and, without preventative action, it is predicted that an additional 4,500 kilometers may be lost in the next 50 years,” she said. “Remediation activities such as river diversions, tidal flow reintroduction and freshwater discharges are aimed to minimize coastal land loss, but little is known regarding how these efforts may affect plants, animals, and their interactions with each other in natural and man-made coastal marshes.”
Through the use of fatty acid and stable isotope environmental tracers, Olin will investigate how a variety of species and their food webs respond to changing environmental conditions and efforts to minimize such loss of coastal habitat.
Funding for the research is part of the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies (RESTORE) Act of 2012, which authorized NOAA to establish and administer the RESTORE science program, predominantly funded by penalties paid by parties responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Fifteen projects received a total of $16.7 million in NOAA RESTORE funds. Over the next 16 years, the RESTORE program will receive $133 million in research funding from the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund.