"The huge flux of food from the overlying waters to the sea floor also creates a diverse food web that provides larger marine predators with a rich smorgasbord of potential food items," says Dunton, who specializes in marine food web ecology. "Since the benthos is the area that would be most impacted by oil and gas production, MMS obviously prefers to focus on that part of the ecosystem."
During two cruises in summer 2009 and 2010, the scientists will collect samples and document the abundance and diversity of benthic organisms. They will be particularly focused on parts of the food web that would be most vulnerable to disruption or contamination by drilling activities. Other members of the scientific team will measure concentrations of metals and hydrocarbons and other chemicals in the benthos.
All data collected will help the scientists better detect any changes in the ecosystem as a result of future oil and gas activity.
The team will work closely with Alaska's native communities, such as the Inupiat.
"This is a sensitive environmental region from many aspects, considering the importance of bowhead whale migration, ice retreats, threats to polar bears, and regional oil, gas and mining operations," says Dr. Steve Lanoux, the grant's project manager and assistant director of operations at UTMSI. "The native Alaskan populations are very concerned about their environment and economy, and we will be including them in our planning and collecting to take advantage of their local knowledge."
The team will collaborate with oil and gas companies and governmental and non-governmental agencies to coordinate research and sample collection activities in the area.
The scientists' first trip will run from mid-July to mid-August, and their research ship will be the 210-foot-long RV Moana Wave.
The final year of the three-year grant will be spent analyzing data, but Dunton is hopeful tha
|Contact: Dr. Ken Dunton|
University of Texas at Austin