Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Deepwater Horizon: oil impacts in Louisiana, science interest for California

In the future, I'll be bringing you a blog entry about water in California on Wednesdays. But yesterday I was winging my way to the coast...the Gulf Coast. New Orleans, Louisiana, where I lived before I came to work at KPCC.

I was en route to a science seminar here about emerging science from the spill: but even before I got here, I checked back into a Louisiana tradition: eating locally. As reported in the Times-Picayune in December, trained toxicologists are facing off over whether local seafood is a good idea. Honestly, it never crossed my mind NOT to eat post-spill oysters at Katie's in Mid-City New Orleans. Still fine for now.

This isn't just a boondoggle though. Some part of what we're talking about here centers on how hydrocarbons behave in the water, particularly deep in the water, and particularly after dispersants including Corexit were shot into the well and spread on the sea last year. California's already come up: even after talking to UCSB researchers last year about seep science and chemical oceanography research, I was surprised to learn that two-thirds of naturally seeping oil in US waters is here in the Gulf of Mexico. The other third is in Santa Barbara.

Last year I spoke to Dave Valentine, a scientist at UCSB who's interested in methane biogeochemistry and hydrocarbon biogeochemistry in the ocean. I reported on a paper of his that aimed to explain the process by which oil seeps and settles into sands underwater off California's coast. Since then, he went to the Gulf and looked at where the methane that was spilled during the Deepwater Horizon disaster went...and what bacteria ate it. He's not at this seminar, but he's a good example of a scientist whose primary field of interest lies just off our coast - in his case, at Coal Oil Point in Santa Barbara - and who is contributing to what we are only beginning to know about the spill's impacts.

For the next several days, I'll be down towards the end of the world: Terrebone Parish, in a place called Cocodrie, south of Chauvin, where LUMCON sits: LUMCON is the Louisiana Facilities Marine Consortium: a building that looks ready for war, a firm concrete x set in the settling sediments that make up what's left of the land down here. And of course, it is ready, to defend itself against elements that could batter it in this somewhat vulnerable place.

It's dark at night - a lot of these houses are "camps" - places waiting for Louisianans to come fish here in season. The stars set off by the new moon, it's also goregeous as hell.

I'll have more thoughts after I gas up my brain a little. Pun intended, of course.