Deepwater Horizon, Research, and the Future of Data Management

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion was in every way a tragedy, resulting in the loss of life for 11 crewmen and causing the largest offshore oil spill in US history.  The clean up efforts are ongoing as is litigation against BP and Transocean, the contractor in charge of Deepwater Horizon.  If there is any silver lining to be found in all of this it is that BP has given $500 million dollars to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) for the purposes of conducting research on the long term effects to the ecosystem from the 4.4 million barrels of oil that gushed into the ocean in the Spring and Summer of 2010.

The Gulf of Mexico has been relatively unexplored in comparison to other regions.  In the 20 years before the oil spill, the Great Lakes received more than $1 billion, while the Chesapeake Bay got just shy of half a billion.  Spending for the same time period on the much-larger Gulf of Mexico: $85 million.

“It’s the hardest working of our ocean basins, but it’s the most underfunded in terms of research monitoring and science,” said Florida State University oceanographer Ian MacDonald.  It’s safe to say that $500 million will go along way in bridging this research gap.  There are many challenges however in attempting to make conclusions on the long-term effects of the oil spill because there is not a lot of existing data on the Gulf of Mexico to compare results with and determine long-term ecological consequences.

The collection and management of data gathered through the efforts of GoMRI funded projects is vitally important to research in this area as well as a model for collaborative research projects of the future.  Unlike some federal funding agencies, who can be vague in their requirements for a data management plan and offer little in the way of training and support, GoMRI has an entire division devoted to data management,The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) and many of the consortia who have been funded by GoMRI are following suit.  The mission of the GRIIDC is, “to ensure a data and information legacy that promotes continual scientific discovery and public awareness of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.”

Having a data management team embedded within a project both takes the pressure off of the researcher, in terms of navigating the somewhat complex territory of DMP’s and long-term management, and ensures that data will be accessible and easy to extrapolate for years to come.  It also promotes collaboration and a holistic approach to scientific research.    This is a model that should be considered for future use , especially in terms of large-scale inter-disciplinary projects such as those funded by GoMRI.



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