Oil Spill Response: Experts
UNCW’s strength in the natural sciences, especially biological sciences, chemistry, geological sciences and other disciplines that form the core of its internationally respected niche in marine science, is the result of decades of intentional focus and investment.
Faculty, staff and students at UNCW’s Center for Marine Science and its state-of-the-art facility on the Intracoastal Waterway at Myrtle Grove are engaged in a wide variety of basic and applied research, service and education. Meanwhile, researchers working in the College of Arts and Sciences - which includes the departments of Geography and Geology, Chemistry, Economics, Environmental Studies, the nationally fifth-ranked Biology and Marine Biology and more - also hold invaluable knowledge pertinent to oil spill response efforts.
State agencies and groups are invited to contact individuals or UNCW's Marketing and Communications Office.
Protected Species: Mammals, Turtles, Birds
- Ann Pabst, professor of Biology and Marine Biology, co-directs the Marine Mammal Stranding Program at UNCW. She, her students and colleagues investigate the functional morphology of cetaceans, with special emphasis on thermoregulatory and locomotor energetics. Along with colleagues at North Carolina State University, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, National Park Service, North Carolina Maritime Museum, Virginia Aquarium, Duke University Marine Lab and NOAA, the Marine Mammal Program at UNCW carries out long-term, interdisciplinary studies of our local marine mammals. The goal of these efforts is to better understand the biology of these species so as to ensure their conservation.
- Bill McLellan is the NC State Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator. He is the NOAA Large Whale Mortality Team Leader for endangered marine mammals. He conducts aerial survey efforts in the offshore waters of Florida through Virginia to provide baseline data on marine mammal and sea turtle distribution and abundance.
- Steve Emslie and his students have been monitoring wintering salt marsh sparrows in North Carolina since 2006. Hundreds of birds representing three species that depend on local salt marshes for winter survival have been banded and provide a baseline of information on their ecology and diet in this rich habitat. Ph.D. student Virginia Winder currently is investigating mercury contamination in these species as relected in their feathers and blood. These data provide information on how much mercury is entering the food chain at both their summer breeding sites to the north and wintering sites in North Carolina. Importantly, these birds return to the same wintering sites in specific salt marshes in North Carolina every year as shown by recaptures of banded birds. In addition to this research, Dr. Emslie and colleagues John Weske and Micou Browne have summarized 30 years of data on breeding Royal and Sandwich Terns in North Carolina and Virginia, again providing long-term baseline data on species that represent bioindicators of the marine and estuarine environment. All these data will be invaluable in assessing the impact of a sudden influx of oil or other pollutants on our coastal ecosystems.
- Amanda Southwood Williard's research revolves around the central question of how animals function in their environment. She is particularly interested in assessing the ways that changing environmental conditions & environmental stressors affect an animal’s physiology, and her studies focus mainly on marine and estuarine reptiles. She has a strong interest in applying results from objective scientific research to promote sound management and conservation of endangered species, and has worked with collaborators in government, academia, and non-profit organizations towards this goal.
- Heather Koopman works on the physiology and ecology of marine organisms, largely focusing on lipid metabolism and energetics. Her lab studies a wide range of animals, including marine mammals, seabirds, lobsters, zooplankton, basking sharks, and important prey species in several ecosystems. Her lab team's questions revolve around how animals make lipids, how they might use them, and the quality and quantity of lipids that predators are consuming at higher trophic levels. She also use lipids as tools to examine other aspects of study species, such as reproduction, movement patterns, growth and development, and the evolution of life history strategies.
Coastal Ecosystems, Resources, Impacts— water quality, beaches, fisheries (shellfish and finfish)
- Jennifer Culbertson is a research associate in biology and marine biology. While earning her doctorate, she worked with one of the top oil experts in the country, Chris Reddy, a scientist in marine chemistry and geochemistry at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who is now consulting with NOAA on the Gulf Coast spill. During that time, she studied the long-term ecological effects of the Wild Harbor oil spill, which took place in 1969 when the barge Florida ran aground off Cape Cod, spilling 189,000 gallons of fuel. Culbertson particularly researched the effects of the spill on fiddler crabs, shellfish populations and salt marsh grasses. Some of her research has been used and considered as part of the most recent Supreme Court ruling on the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
- Martin Posey and Troy Alphin direct the UNCW Benthic Ecology Laboratory. They have been examining coastal nearshore and offshore communities for the past several decades, including critical habitats such as offshore hardbottom reefs, coastal beaches, salt marshes, oyster reefs, and coastal estuaries and sounds. Their expertise includes coastal ecology; benthic ecology; biology of critical ecosystems including oyster reefs, salt marshes, offshore hardbottom reefs, oligohaline marshes, and estuarine habitats; crustacean biology and fisheries management (blue crabs and shrimp); bivalve biology and fisheries management. They are members of several state and national level advisory communities, including the NC Division of Marine Fisheries Crustacean Fisheries Advisory Committee, the NC Division of Marine Fisheries Shellfish Advisory Committee, the NC Division of Coastal Management Shoreline Processes Workgroup, as well as advisory groups for local mariculture programs. Their research over the past several decades has provided long term baseline data from coastal tidal creek and Cape Fear estuaries; Cape Fear tidal marshes and salt marshes along the New Hanover, Pender, Onslow and Carteret County coasts; oyster reefs along the southeastern and central North Carolina coast (SC line into southern Pamlico Sound); bottom communities along various areas of the North Carolina coast (including offshore hardbottom reefs and select areas along the coastal shelf); ongoing coastwide monitoring of oyster settlement; blue crab megalopal settlement; as well as community data from experimental work and students projects.
- Larry Cahoon has a fairly extensive history with oil industry issues. He served on the NC Marine Science Council 1985-1991, which was on point with the Mobil Oil proposal for exploratory drilling off Cape Hatteras that surfaced in 1988, and served on the NC Ocean Science Council after that through 1993. From 1993-1996, he served as chair of the NC Ocean Resources Task Force, where he helped write NC's current policy on offshore oil and gas exploration. He served on an Advisory Committee for the Division of Coastal Management that looked at updates on NC's coastal ocean policies, including new energy sources, such as wind. Most recently, he completed service on the General Assembly's Legislative Study Subcommittee on Offshore Energy Development, co-chaired by Jim Leutze and Doug Rader. Dr. Cahoon has also led a study of the ecology of ocean beaches, results of which may be very useful in assessing any harm from oil or other pollutants.
- Mike Mallin heads up the Aquatic Ecology Laboratory at UNCW Center for Marine Science. His laboratory analyzes causes and effects of both chronic and acute water pollution to fresh, estuarine and coastal marine waters. They work with chemical pollution, nutrient loading and eutrophication problems, bacterial contamination, and low dissolved oxygen problems, with special emphasis on phytoplankton and zooplankton. They also study how storms and hurricanes magnify the effects of pollution events on coastal waters.
- Michael Durako is a marine botanist currently conducting research on photosynthesis and stress responses/tolerances of seagrasses. I have research experience looking at the effects of crude oil on seagrass photosynthesis and ecology, which I gained as a participant of the NOAA Mt. Mitchell 100-day cruise following the Gulf War oil spill (Durako et al. 1999, Kenworthy et al., 1993).
Offshore Ecosystems Resources, Impacts— deep sea corals, shelf reefs, Gulf Stream and water column, oil/gas related habitats
- Joe Pawlik is a marine invertebrate zoologist with research interests in marine chemical ecology and coral reef ecology. Recent work in his lab has focused on the functions of unusual organic compounds derived from Caribbean coral reef sponges and sea whips, particularly as defenses against predation, fouling, and overgrowth. He has an ongoing research program in Key Largo, Florida at UNCW’s National Undersea Research Program studying the ecology of the giant barrel sponge, Xestospongia muta.
- Steve Ross is a fishery biologist and marine ecologist who has studied ecosystems from estuaries to the deep-sea. In recent years he has been studying deepwater coral reefs along the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, some of which are threatened by the Gulf oil spill. Dr. Ross leads an interagency, multidisciplinary team of scientists who have documented that deep-sea coral reefs are abundant and important ecosystems along the US continental slope. Dr. Ross will lead two cruises this fall which will sample areas in the path of the oil spill, and he will collaborate with a third cruise (July) which will assess impacts to deep reef communities.
- Andy Shepard, Associate Director for NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology (cioert.org), has experience in undersea research on oil and gas cold seeps, seafloor gas hydrates, and deep coral ecosystems. He is a participant on 2010 Deep Reef Expedition to the Gulf to look at shelf-edge reefs off the west coast of Florida.
- Daniel Baden's current work focuses on Florida red tides on the west coast of Florida. Florida red tides caused by Karenia brevis occur annually along the US Gulf of Mexico coastline, and release 12 irritating natural environmental polyether brevetoxins into water and air with toxic results. Toxin antagonists are also released. Over the past 10 years we have collected extensive background and exposure data to indicate that brevetoxins elicit neurotoxic, immunologic, and pulmonary effects in inhalation-exposed humans and animal models. We have further characterized inhalation exposure to the complex mixture of materials aerosolized from red tide, depositing in occupational, recreational, and susceptible human and animal populations. Mechanisms of action and prevention, and therapeutics are intensified foci in lab and field alike. Florida red tides cause human illness through the airborne release of bioactive chemicals produced during a bloom. Using an interdisciplinary approach, this program project employs both laboratory studies and beachside work to understand the human consequences of exposure to aerosolized toxins, to explore therapies for intoxication, and to develop new drugs exploiting red tide bioactive materials. Brevetoxins are fat soluble molecules that accumulate in the mixed microlayer of surface seawater, much like components of the oil spill. This program project team, especially with colleagues funded by UNCW at Mote marine laboratory, has expanded our monitoring and human health related activities to include oil components as they are observed and encountered on Florida’s west coast beaches.
Physics— Gulf Stream, models and spill trajectories
- Fred Bingham studies large-scale regional physical oceanography: the Kuroshio, the western North and Equatorial Pacific, the Hawaiian Islands and Onslow Bay, North Carolina. His research interests include global distributions of sea surface salinity.
- John Morrison
Geology-- geology of oil/gas reserves
- Lynn Leonard
- Jennifer Dorton
- Roger Shew is a geologist that has 20 years of work in the oil industry with Shell Oil in New Orleans and Houston from 1980 – 2000. His work included research on depositional systems where he specialized in characterizing deep-water reservoirs, in particular in the Gulf of Mexico. He was the geology trainer for Shell Oil for five years. He continues to consult and provide training on reservoir characterization and is familiar with the issues associated with the exploration for and production of hydrocarbons. Since coming to UNCW in 2000, where he teaches in Geography and Geology and Environmental Science, he has made multiple presentations on energy and natural resources and the issues associated with those topics. Topics include types of energy resources including fossil fuels and renewables, energy demand globally and in the U.S., locations of the current and future resource bases of all fuel types including the issues of oil, gas, and wind in the Outer Continental Shelf (Atlantic coast and elsewhere in the U.S.), and of course the issues (pros and cons) related to the use of these resources.
- Chris Dumas conducts economic impact analysis of oil spill effects.
- Peter Schuhmann conducts research in the area of economic valuation of marine resources. This includes economic impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries, tourism and recreation demand in general (e.g. beach visitation), and the economic value of diminished resource quality , including that from the changes in the availability of non-harvested species such as corals and marine turtles. Some of the work includes modeling the economics of fishery response to natural resource damages such as oil spills