Planned research sites for FK006b

Researchers plan to visit the following study sites near the Deepwater Horizon oil spill aboard the R/V Falkor from 6 - 19 November 2012. Image credit: Dr. Ray Highsmith, ECOGIG 

Planned research sites for FK006b

Planned research sites for FK006b

Assembling instruments at the dock

Scientists assemble the multicore instrument from shipping containers on the dock before loading it onto R/V Falkor. Image credit: Debbie Nail Meyer

Assembling instruments at the dock

Assembling instruments at the dock

This final shakedown cruise for the Schmidt Ocean Institute research vessel Falkor is dedicated to a comprehensive study of ecosystems near the site of Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico. This cruise is planned as the most intensive operational test of R/V Falkor and her embedded systems in advance of the committed research projects that will start in 2013. This cruise spans more than three weeks at sea and includes high-resolution mapping of the seafloor for background data and scientific sampling decisions, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations, coordinated ROV operations with another research vessel during the mission, small plane overflight, numerous deployments of customized instruments brought by the science team, and round-the-clock experiments at sea in the onboard laboratories.

The November timing of the expedition adds another test dimension for ship operations due to the potential for inclement weather heading into the winter season. Experience with sea state conditions is essential training for R/V Falkor’s integrated operations. For example, it may take one to two hours to recover an ROV in the event of worsening weather, but the ship must still be able to maintain its position.

The expedition is a collaboration of Schmidt Ocean Institute with a multidisciplinary research program that is studying environmentally important questions about the impacts of oil on ocean ecosystems. Led by Dr. Ray Highsmith, the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) consortium brings together oceanographers, biologists and chemists from more than 17 institutions to study ecosystem impacts of natural oil and gas seepage versus that of oil disasters. The research investigates the long-term effects and ecosystem recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in April 2010. ECOGIG is funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.

The scientists aboard R/V Falkor will use cutting-edge sensors and an array of technical equipment to sample and monitor ECOGIG study sites. An important capability of R/V Falkor for this study is the deep-sea ROV Global Explorer MK3 that can operate to depths of 2,000 meters. The ROV will be used to transport customized instruments to the seafloor and install them in precise locations with a dexterous manipulator arm. It is equipped with customized cameras, including an advanced 3-D video imaging system, that will give the scientists an unprecedented view of the seafloor around the study sites. Samples can be tracked to specific locations on the seafloor with high-quality navigation data from the ROV and ship.

Scientific Objectives

The first leg of the expedition, led by Chief Scientist Ian MacDonald from Florida State University, consists of twelve scientists and graduate students from eight different institutions. A primary objective is to recover seafloor "lander" platforms that enable long-term studies of the microbial degradation of oil on the seafloor, and monitoring the flow of methane gas from the seafloor. Microbiologist Beth Orcutt of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences will lead the lander operations.

The science team will focus their studies on three areas: a deep-sea coral community; a site near the Macondo wellhead where a lander is currently deployed; and a natural hydrocarbon seep. Over the first two weeks, the team will:

  1. recover and redeploy benthic landers at two sites;
  2. collect water and coral samples with the ROV;
  3. collect sediment cores with the ROV and a multiple corer;
  4. deploy and recover short-term observing instruments; and
  5. conduct acoustic bathymetric and water column surveys. 

The cores would be analyzed for hydrocarbon content and fingerprinting for presence of Macondo oil, microbial community structure, activity, and impact on sediment geochemistry, and evidence of gas hydrates. At hard grounds, the coral/bivalve community will be investigated.  An ECOGIG team aboard the research vessel R/V Pelican will link up with R/V Falkor for the lander operations. And there will be an overflight by an aircraft operated by On Wings of Care to record aerial photography of surface oil slicks. On November 19th, there will be an exchange of research teams on board. The second leg, led by Chief Scientist Charles Fisher of Penn State University, will focus on deep-sea coral studies.

Follow the researchers with reports from the field that will be posted on this website by expedition outreach coordinator, Debbie Nail Meyer. 

 -Edited by Debbie Nail Meyer for Schmidt Ocean Institute


Publications, presentations at scientific meetings, and research seminars based on this cruise:


Daneshgar Asl, S., J. F. Amos, P. Woods, O. Garcia-Pineda, & I. R. MacDonald. (2015). Chronic, anthropogenic hydrocarbon discharges in the Gulf of Mexico. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography DOI: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2014.12.010.

Young, D., D. Ruiz-Ramos, I.B. Baums, & E.E. Cordes. (in press). Response of cold-water corals to oil and chemical dispersant exposure. Deep Sea Research II.


Daneshgar Asl, S., J. Amos, P. Woods, O. Carcia Pineda, & I.R. MacDonald. (2014). Aerial survey validation of satellite SAR monitoring of anthropogenic hydrocarbon discharges in the Gulf of Mexico (Poster Presentation). Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference. Mobile, AL. 

Fisher, C. (2014). Footprint of impact from the Deepwater Horizon Incident.  Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Research Conference.  Mobile, AL. 

Fisher, C (2014). Corals as deep-water sentinels of anthropogenic impact: Lessons from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Tech Week: Deep Blue Days,  Brest, France. 

Fisher, C (2014). Impact of oil pollution from the Deepwater Horizon spill on deep water ecosystems. Norwegian Ecotoxicology Symposium,  Stavanger, Norway.

Fisher, C (2014). The deep water coral record of the Deepwater Horizon spill.  Earth Talks,  Penn State University, PA. 

Garcia-Pineda, O., I. MacDonald, & W. Shedd. (2014). Analysis of Oil-Volume Fluxes of Hydrocarbon-Seep Formations on the Green Canyon and Mississippi Canyon: A Study With 3D-Seismic Attributes in Combination With Satellite and Acoustic Data. Spe Reservoir Evaluation & Engineering 17(4): 430-435.

Johansen, C., A.C Todd, W. Dewar, W. Shedd, & I.R. MacDonald. (2014). Quantifying the volume and frequency of bubble release from hydrocarbon seeps in the Gulf of Mexico: GC600 (Poster Presentation). Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference, Mobile, AL.

Young, D. & E.E. Cordes. (2014). Response of deep-water corals to oil and dispersant exposure.  Presentation for the 2014 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference. Mobile, AL.


Baums, I.B. & D. Ruiz. (2013). The use of -omics to detect environmental stress in the Cnidaria. Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference. New Orleans, LA.

Fisher, C. (2013). Impact to deep-water corals from the Deepwater Horizon Disaster. Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference.  New Orleans, LA.

Fisher, C. (2013). The human factor: Our impact on the Earth’s final frontier.  Sea Secrets (a public lecture series), University of Miami, Miami, FL.

Lapham, L., B.Orcutt, P.Girguis, G.Wheat, & ECOGIG lander team. (2013). Deep-water sediment biogeochemical time-series data from MIMOSA (MIcrobial Methane Observatory for Seafloor Analysis). Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Conference, New Orleans, LA.

Martens, C. (2013). The first benthic boundary layer water chemistry data from initial test deployments of the ROVARD-Chimney Sampler Array (CSA) at station MC-118 at 900 meters depth in the northern Gulf of Mexico. AGU Meeting, San Francisco, CA.

Ruiz-Ramos, D.V. & I.B. Baums. (2013). Impact of crude oil on the deep-water coral  Leiopathes glaberrima. 11th Ecological Genomics Symposium, Kansas City, Missouri.

Ruiz-Ramos D.V. & I.B. Baums. (2013).  Impact of hydrocarbon/dispersant exposure on deep-water corals: the transcriptome of Leiopathes glaberrima. Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference, New Orleans, LA.

Slattery, M., S. Ankisetty, D. Ruiz, & I.B. Baums. (2013). Optimization of proteomic profiling in the deep sea black coral, Leiopathes glaberrima. Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference, New Orleans, LA.

Young, D. & E.E. Cordes. (2013). Stress responses of deep-sea corals to oil and dispersant exposure in the Gulf of Mexico. Presentation for the 42nd Benthic Ecology Meeting. Savannah, GA.


Fisher, C. (2012). Impact to deepwater coral gardens from the Deep Water Horizon disaster.  Plenary presentation at the 13th International Deep-Sea Biology Symposium, Wellington, New Zealand.

Johansen, C., W. Shedd , T. Abichou, O. Pineda-Garcia, M. Silva, & I.R. MacDonald. (2012). Dynamics of Hydrocarbon Vents: Focus on Primary Porosity (Poster Presentation) AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA.

Ruiz-Ramos, D.V. & I.B. Baums. (2012). Impact of hydrocarbon/dispersant exposure on deep-water corals: the transcriptome of Leiopathes glaberrima. 10th Anniversary Ecological Genomics Symposium,  Kansas City, Missouri, 

Data Products Resulting from this cruise:

All ECOGIG project data are submitted to GRIIDC - The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative at the Harte Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.

Coverage around the Web:

Scientist to Revisit Wellhead Site in Legendary Research Submarine
Research footprint growing in the Gulf of Mexico
Scientists get free use of research vessel to study BP oil disaster (with video)
Plenty of Oil Left Near the Deepwater Horizon!
New oil sheen prompts another investigation of BP Deepwater Horizon disaster scene
Il terzo ritorno della marea nera. Trovato ancora petrolio sul sito del pozzo Bp
Scientists to Use Falkor for Gulf Coast Expedition
Oil Spill Research Project Led by Mississippi Team of Scientists
Coast Guard approves underwater inspection of BP well, Deepwater Horizon wreckage for oil
Oil Remains in the Gulf of Mexico near the Deepwater Horizon Disaster
BP, Coast Guard say 4-day inspection of Macondo well, Deepwater Horizon debris turns up no oil