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Annual Public Lectures Series > Erik Cordes

Scientists and Journalists:
Getting the Point Across
June 13-17, 2011

Impacts of the Oil Spill on Seafloor Communities:
Coupling Exploration and Damage Assessment

Erik Cordes, Biology Department, Temple University
Summary of comments from June 16

The public's attention during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has focused on the environmental impacts of oil reaching shorelines, saltwater marshes and surface waters of the Gulf. Seafloor communities have occupied much less of the public's consideration. Erik Cordes of the biology department at Temple University, investigates deep sea corals and seafloor communities as well as contributing scientific data for the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, which is overseen by NOAA.

Several of Cordes' previously-selected study sites happened to be very close to the source of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and were under the plume for the entirety of the spill. These seafloor communities were studied prior to the spill, and revisited after the spill to assess damage. Using satellite imagery, geophysical and geochemical data and submersibles, these seafloor communities are being mapped and observed, and they provide important evidence for determining the impact of hydrocarbons and dispersants on the life of the seafloor.

Cordes discussed preliminary findings of coral damage, described the difficulties associated with definitively linking that damage to the oil spill, and framed considerations for how we might define our conservation targets. Given that these ecosystems don't interact with humans and interact little with other communities that impact humans, how do we begin to assign economic values to them? Cordes' personal opinion is that "there is an inherent value in some of these sites. You can't say that if humans never use these species that they are of no value."

A multimedia presentation of these explorations is available at Ocean Explorer.

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June 20, 2011