2011 Workshop Agenda
13th Annual Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists
Coastal Impacts: Lessons Learned from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
June 12-17, 2011
Science From the Ground Up
Welcome and Introductions
The Building Blocks of Scientific Knowledge
SUNSHINE MENEZES, Metcalf Institute; ART GOLD and SCOTT MCWILLIAMS, URI Natural Resources Science
Although scientists see peer review, which occurs prior to the publication of a study, as an essential stage in the development of scientific consensus, the average news consumer is not exposed to the process of peer review. Familiarity with the different stages of scientific inquiry is critical to understanding the culture of science. Presenters will review the culture and practice of science, ranging from the identification of research questions and the nature of scientific uncertainty to the peer review process.
A Basis for Understanding Oil Spill Impacts
Oil Fate and Transport: Where Did the Oil Go?
SCOTT MCWILLIAMS, KRIS WINIARSKI, URI Department of Natural Resources Science; KIM GAFFETT, Ocean View Foundation; PETER CORNILLON, URI Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO); ERIC ADAMS, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; CHRISTOPHER REDDY, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; JON HARE, NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center
While public attention has shifted toward the longer-term effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (DHOS), it is still important to know the observed and projected oil distribution, the operational challenges of asessing the oil leak, and the ways in which the oil has been partitioned and decomposed. In this session, the panelists will describe the current understanding about fate and transport of oil from the DHOS, using a variety of physical and chemical methods.
DAVID SMITH, GSO Associate Dean, will provide an overview of the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography.
Science Translation I
Graphing for Communication of Complex Data
ANNA PHEIFFER-HERBERT, GSO Graduate Student
This session will provide an introduction to the basics of interpreting graphs and some commonly used statistical tools. Fellows will review techniques for visualizing data and apply these techniques in an informal challenge to interpret more complex graphs.
Science Translation II
Deconstructing a Scientific Publication
METCALF FELLOWS; MARTA GOMEZ-CHIARRI, URI Fisheries and Animal Veterinary Science; DAVID SMITH, GSO; JACQUELINE WEBB, URI Biological Sciences; ANNA MALEK and ANNA PHEIFFER-HERBERT, GSO Graduate Students
For this Science Translation session, Fellows will partner with scientists in five groups. Using a pre-assigned paper as a model, each group will discuss science translation tools that can be used to effectively read and “translate” a science journal article for a news audience. At the end of the exercise, each group will present the main ideas in the paper and share a specific tip gained during the session.
The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling
DONALD BOESCH, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
Boesch, a member of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, will provide a summary of the Commission’s findings and recommendations related to ensuring safer operations and protecting and restoring the environment and a current status report on action on these recommendations.
Measuring Ecosystem Impacts
Lab and Fieldwork
LEANNA HEFFNER, GSO Graduate Student; MARY-JANE JAMES-PIRRI, GSO; JASON MCNAMEE, R.I. Department of Environmental Management Division of Fish and Wildlife
Understanding Salt Marsh Biogeochemistry and Why it Matters
LEANNA HEFFNER, GSO Graduate Student
In the first portion of the salt marsh program, we will be looking at how scientists study salt marsh biogeochemistry in a laboratory setting. Salt marshes and other wetlands are important habitat: they serve as nesting, feeding, breeding, and nursery sites for many species of marine and terrestrial species, especially birds and fish. The sediments in wetlands are also hotspots for biogeochemical activity: plants, algae and microbes are constantly transforming chemicals and nutrients in the mud and water of wetlands. These chemical transformations are critical for the functioning of the ecosystem and can help wetlands act as pollution filters or nutrient providers to surrounding ecosystems. In the laboratory we will set-up an experiment using previously collected sediment cores to measure biogeochemical activity of the Narrow River salt marsh. Experimenting with sediment cores in a controlled lab environment is a typical method for examining biogeochemical processes in a variety of ecosystems. We will also look at some of the lab equipment used to analyze water samples.
Using Coastal Wetlands as Indicators
LEANNA HEFFNER GSO Graduate Student; MARY-JANE JAMES-PIRRI, GSO; JASON MCNAMEE, R.I. Department of Environmental Management Division of Fish & Wildlife
Coastal wetlands come in many shapes and sizes but all share an ability to respond to physical changes such as temperature and sea level. But these resilient ecosystems are not impervious to chemical contaminants such as oil. In this low-tide field exercise, Fellows will use three methods to assess the health of the salt marsh at Middlebridge on the Narrow River. Fellows will measure marsh plant diversity using quadrats, collect sediment cores to examine marsh biogeochemistry and sediment characteristics, and use a seine to measure abundance and diversity of near-shore fish and invertebrates.
Where Did All That Oil Go? And Why is This Such a Hard Question, Anyway?
VERNON ASPER, University of Southern Mississippi
After estimating the total amount of oil spilled by the Deepwater Horizon last spring, the next big questions focused on where the oil went. Many scientists scrambled into the field and labs to try to model the distribution of oil and measure it in the field. Among the first to visit the spill site, Asper has developed an interesting perspective on the various pathways through which the oil was distributed. He will describe some of the methods used to study these processes and the uncertainties associated with many of them. He will attempt to provide answers to questions concerning the various estimates and will present a summary of the current understanding of the fate and transport of the oil as well as some hypotheses that have yet to be tested.
The Small Print: Understanding the Legal Lessons from the Deepwater Horizon
SUSAN FARADY, Roger Williams University School of Law
The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill was the first major test of the Oil Pollution Act (OPA-90), the principal federal statute that governs spill liability. OPA90 was created in response to the grounding of the Exxon Valdez, an oil spill that differed in nearly every respect from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The Deepwater Horizon spill also raised a host of new legal and policy questions regarding the National Contingency Plan, the legal structure that dictated federal, state, and local responses to the 2010 spill. Farady will provide a broad introduction to the major legal issues raised by this spill.
Long-Term Research: The Importance of Establishing Baselines
Fieldwork and Lab Practicum
Assessing the State of Fisheries
ANNA MALEK, GSO Graduate Student; SCOTT OLSCEWSKI, R.I. Department of Environmental Management Division of Fish and Wildlife
Fellows will gain an appreciation for the development of a long-term data series by participating in a fish trawl modeled on the GSO Fish Trawl Survey. The GSO survey celebrates its 52nd year in 2011, and the data gathered from this effort have informed scientists around the world.
Arrive Wickford Marina, board the R/V Cap’n Bert (URI research vessel).
Depart for fisheries trawl in Narragansett Bay, rain or shine. Steam to Fox Island. GSO graduate student, Anna Malek, will show Fellows how measurements are taken of surface and bottom water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and salinity as part of the trawl data. She will also demonstrate how to collect a plankton sample. After a 20-minute tow of the fish trawl, Fellows will learn how to sort and identify species; count and weigh the catch; and log catch data. As time permits on the boat, Fellows may discuss the implications of the catch numbers for the biology of Narragansett Bay and/or other fisheries management issues. Fellows will help clean up and store the trawl equipment in preparation for docking.
Aquatic Toxicology: Understanding How Contaminants Affect Fish Populations
DIANE NACCI, Senior Research Biologist, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Atlantic Ecology Division
Nacci will introduce Fellows to the Atlantic Ecology Division (AED) facility and mission, focusing on the development of methods to assess and predict the ecological risks of chemicals in the estuarine and marine environment. Fellows will observe the organisms, life stages, and objectives used in standardized and experimental toxicity tests, with special emphasis on those developed by AED scientists. These tests feature invertebrate and vertebrate organisms exposed during sensitive developmental periods to chemicals and contaminated environmental media. The organisms are tested for lethal and sub-lethal responses, providing information that is biologically and ecologically important and chemically diagnostic. Discussions will consider how toxicity tests and chemical data are integrated into the prediction of risk, as well as how toxicity tests are evolving to better account for biological representativeness, ecological completeness, and the incorporation of increasingly accessible but complex (genomic) information.
Communication Lessons from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Learning from an Environmental Disaster
DAVID ROPEIK, Author and Consultant, moderator; JUSTIN KENNEY, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Communications and External Affairs; PAUL ANASTAS, U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development
Communication plans for federal agencies are informed by well-established research and prior experience. The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, however, demonstrated that these plans can be very difficult to follow in the heat of a complex crisis that involves a wide range of levels and branches of government. Panelists will discuss the communications challenges and some resulting missteps made during the 2010 Gulf oil spill, as well as the lessons gained from this experience.
Measuring Ecosystem Impacts II
Using Molecular Techniques to Detect Community Shifts
TATIANA RYNEARSON and BETHANY JENKINS, GSO; SHELLEY BROWN, GSO Graduate Student
DNA barcoding techniques are being used to measure the impact of the Gulf oil spill on marine biodiversity, particularly of small species and juveniles that are difficult to detect using traditional methods. In this hand-on activity, Fellows will learn how DNA barcoding can be used to measure biodiversity and discover new species. Using a field sample collected during the Wednesday fish trawl, Fellows will learn how to extract DNA, view DNA under the microscope, and view some important plankton from Narragansett Bay.
Science Translation III: Telling the Story
METCALF FELLOWS; DAVID SMITH, GSO; MARTA GOMEZ-CHIARRI, URI Department of Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Science; JACQUELINE WEBB, URI Department of Biological Sciences; ANNA MALEK and ANNA PHEIFFER-HERBERT, GSO Graduate Students
For the next Science Translation session, Fellows will again gather in five groups. Building on the science translation tools identified on Wednesday afternoon and with the help of the participating scientists, Fellows will read and translate a science journal article and identify one or two key conclusions from the paper. Fellows will then take the lead to help scientists identify a news hook for the article and develop a pitch to cover the paper. For each group, a journalist will summarize the conclusions of the scientific journal article, and the scientist will give a brief pitch for a news story relating to those conclusions.
Science Translation IV: Lessons Learned from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
METCALF FELLOWS; PETER LORD, The Providence Journal; SUNSHINE MENEZES, Metcalf Institute
Fellows will have an opportunity to discuss scientific and policy issues raised during the Annual Workshop and exchange ideas about how to most effectively cover these topics in their reporting.
Impacts of the Oil Spill on Seafloor Communities: Coupling Exloration and Damage Assessment
ERIK CORDES, Temple University
More than a year after the Deepwater Horizon rig blowout, in the deep waters of the Gulf, the damage assessment is ongoing. Satellite imagery is an excellent tool for tracking the spill on the surface, but there is no current technology available for remote sensing of oil in the mid-water or on the seafloor. Instead, scientists have to rely on the physical presence of ships, submersible vehicles, and sampling gear to determine the course and the fate of the oil released from the well. Assessing the damage caused by the hydrocarbons on the life on the deep seafloor is even more challenging. Cordes’ first cruise visited some of the coral reefs that had been previously known, and there were few visual signs of impact. Continued exploration of the area near the site of the blow out revealed a stand of gorgonian soft corals that exhibited strong evidence of the direct impact of the spill. Studies are still ongoing to determine the extent of the damage at this site and the locations of additional sites that may contain the same species of corals.
Applying Lessons from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
Making Sense of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Process
DEBORAH FRENCH MCCAY, Applied Science Associates, Inc.
The Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) compiles scientific information about an oil spill or other hazardous substance release to inform a legal process aimed at collecting damages from responsible parties to be used for environmental restoration. French-McCay is a government expert and is leading one of consulting groups that has been hired by NOAA to contribute to the NRDA process for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. She will outline the NRDA research efforts and next steps in the process.
Looking Ahead: Developing Greener Approaches for the Next Oil Spill
SOM SOMASUNDARAN, Columbia University
In the immediate wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill, federal regulators deployed a commonly used chemical to disperse the oil in a trade-off intended to reduce impacts on coastal habitats. No research was available on how these dispersants might perform under different pressure, salinity, temperature and hydrodynamical conditions in the Gulf, particularly in the presence of oil. Somasundaran and his colleagues are developing and testing new bio-dispersants minimally toxic to marine organisms. He will discuss their methods and preliminary results.