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New report offers broad approach to assessing impacts of ecological damage
Date:11/10/2011

erally been applied to smaller, relatively contained spills in shallow water. The full impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill, which released more than 5 million barrels of oil in the Gulf at great depth, will be more difficult to quantify, the committee said. Because the Gulf is continually changing due to natural and human forces, establishing baselines to measure ecological changes caused by the spill is challenging in many cases. An additional concern is the potential for chronic impacts that may not be evident for several years.

A broader "ecosystem services" approach to assessing damage from the spill could "expand the menu" of restoration projects beyond identifying specific ecological damage to a habitat or resource, the report says. Under this approach, for example, the assessment process for a wetland area would take into account the value of a wetland in containing storm surges in addition to cataloging the harm to vegetation and wildlife. This could help incorporate long-term, chronic effects of the oil spill into the assessment process. By expanding options for restoration, it could also foster more timely identification and development of restoration projects that are mutually agreeable to trustees, responsible parties, and the public.

Although an ecosystem services approach has great potential, the report acknowledges that it will often be difficult to implement because of large gaps in data on ecosystems, the multiple services they provide, and their complexity. The committee also looked at several economic approaches to measure the value of ecosystem services lost due to the oil spill and recognized that some services are difficult to assess in monetary terms. The report notes that specific types of data and analysis will be required to complement the thousands of ecological samples and other data already being collected in the Gulf. Despite these limitations, however, the committee believed that an ecosystem se
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Contact: Jennifer Walsh
news@nas.edu
202-334-2138
National Academy of Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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