Researchers fly into Hurricane Isaac to measure effects on Gulf oil

By on September 18, 2012
Hurricane Isaac (Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response)

When Hurricane Isaac had people in New Orleans boarding up windows or evacuating the city, a team of oceanographic researchers prepared to fly into the storm to deploy water profilers, according to a University of Miami press release.

The goal was to see how Isaac would affect oceanic salinity, temperature and currents. The researchers also observed ocean upwelling to see if it would cause any oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to surface and float ashore.

“From previous hurricanes like Ivan and Frederic we knew this area was prone to upwelling and deep sea responses to the events taking place in the atmosphere. These areas have high humidity and strong surface wind activity, which may lead to tar balls washing, ashore – which may have the same chemical fingerprint as the oil spill. We are interested in this possibility, and the long term impacts it might have on the coastal ecosystem,” said Nick Shay, principle investigator and professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at University of Miami.

The team dropped three kinds of ocean profilers from a NOAA plane. They deployed 54 monitoring devices before Isaac hit, 39 during the storm and 67 once it was over.

The researchers were also looking for tar balls loosened by the storm and washed ashore. They scanned the New Orleans beaches up to a week prior to Isaac and again after the storm passed. Chris Reddy, senior scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Wade Jeffrey, professor of biology with the University of West Florida, led the post-hurricane search.

The team collected shore oil samples before and after the storm.

The University of Miami team consisted of Benjamin Jaimes, Ph.D, a principle investigator, and graduate students Ryan Shuster and Jodi Brewster.

Image: Hurricane Isaac makes landfall on the Gulf Coast (Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response)

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