Since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, an unprecedented coordinated 10-year $500 million research effort to understand impacts and improve response has been underway. To date, 2,400 individuals including 1,000 scientists, 145 post-doctoral researchers, and 660 graduate students are working towards this common goal. The Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) administrates this effort through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), an oil spill and ecosystem science research program that BP voluntarily funded.
A Master Research Agreement between GOMA and BP governs the GoMRI. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board, with GOMA and BP each appointing 10, makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of GoMRI-funded science. A testament to the success of the Research Board, the GOMA administration, and its management team is the award of nearly $175M in research funding to over 100 institutions across the country and internationally. Some 75% of the funding goes to institutions located here in the Gulf of Mexico region. GoMRI is in the process of evaluating new proposals and anticipates funding $112M in research later this fall.
One requirement of all research awards is the public availability of project information and scientific data as soon as possible. From this began the joint efforts of the Gulf Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative or “GRIIDC”. It is the data management engine for all GoMRI scientific datasets. The Research Information System or “RIS” is for all information about GoMRI-funded projects, people, institutions, and publications. The GOMA partners of the Harte Research Institute, the Northern Gulf Institute, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission built and maintain the GRIIDC and RIS. GRIIDC now holds over 550 scientific data sets. The RIS holds detailed information on over 200 funded projects. Together these systems make all GoMRI data and information publicly discoverable.
With excellent research resulting from the program including 368 refereed journal articles, 11 book chapters and 1 book, GoMRI pursues an aggressive outreach effort. GoMRI recently contracted the Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant programs, who hired four extension specialists dedicated to oil spill science, to reach specific audiences with whom they have already developed strong relationships. Sea Grant joins other organizations to expand outreach. ScreenScope is developing a PBS documentary similar to the Journey to Planet Earth and the Smithsonian Ocean Portal is developing topical content and an interactive infographic that shows oil movement.
These efforts complement existing outreach activities such as the quarterly GoMRI public newsletter and an annual oil spill and ecosystem science meeting. The GoMRI website, Twitter(@gulfresearch) and Facebook feeds are excellent ways to stay up to date on summaries of recent published research such as Oil Indicator Species in Surf Zones, Dispersant Impacts on Food Webs, and Ocean Current Prediction Modeling. With an ultimate goal to improve society’s ability to understand, respond to and mitigate the impacts of petroleum pollution, the GoMRI program has increased the amount of ecosystem science in the Gulf of Mexico exponentially.