After the British Petroleum Deep Water Horizon explosion, the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coastlines were devastated.  As part of reparations for the ecological and economic catastrophe, BP set up a $500 million research fund to benefit universities in the states affected. The first major funding of $112M has been distributed.  Most of the money was awarded to Florida and Texas, states which were minimally affected by the spill, while Alabama was excluded from funding altogether.

On 20 April 2010, the Deep Water Horizon (DWH) drilling rig operating approximately 50 miles (80 km) off of the coast of Louisiana experienced a catastrophic failure that resulted in the release of petroleum (oil and gas) and subsequent explosion and fire, the ultimate sinking of the rig, and a discharge of gas and light sweet crude oil from an ocean depth of nominally 5000 feet (1525 m). This tragic event was overshadowed with the loss of 11 men who were working on the rig at the time of the explosion.

On 24 May 2010, BP committed $500 million over a 10-year period to create a broad, independent research program to be conducted at research institutions primarily in the US Gulf Coast States. The program was named the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI). On 15 June 2010, BP announced the names of the scientific experts who would form GRI’s independent Research Board. BP, in consultation with the White House and the Governors of the five Gulf Coastal States, later expanded the GRI Research Board to 20 members by adding additional scientific expertise. The GRI Research Board has 20 members, 10 appointed by BP and 2 recommended by the Governor of each of the five Gulf Coast States and appointed by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance.

Initial funds for the GRI were awarded to Gulf Coast State institutions for rapid-response studies in the immediate aftermath of the DWH oil spill. Future GRI funds will be used to support research programs for both consortia and individual investigators. The annual funding level for all GRI activities will be $50 million per year.

The objectives of the GRI are to investigate the impacts of the oil, dispersed oil, and dispersant on the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico and affected coastal States in a broad context of improving fundamental understanding of the dynamics of such events and the associated environmental stresses and public health implications. The GRI will also fund research into improved spill mitigation, oil and gas detection, characterization and remediation technologies. The ultimate goal of the GRI is to improve society’s ability to understand, respond to, and mitigate the impacts of petroleum pollution and related stressors of the marine and coastal ecosystems, with an emphasis on conditions found in the Gulf of Mexico. Knowledge accrued will be applied to restoration and to improvement of the long-term environmental health of the Gulf of Mexico.

Reston, VA – The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) Research Board’s announcement that eight Research Consortia will be funded for the next three years. A total of $112.5 million over three years will support this portion of the GRI research effort. These teams will investigate the fate of petroleum in the environment, the impacts of the spill, and the development of new tools and technology for responding to future spills and improving mitigation and restoration.

The funding as distributed:

Alabama: $0 (0%)

No Alabama proposals were selected.

Florida: $46 Million (41%)

$20 Million.  Lead Institution: Florida State University. Lead Investigator: Eric Chassignet, Ph.D. Project Title: “Deep-C: Deepsea to Coast Connectivity in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.” Member Institutions: Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Florida Institute of Oceanography, Georgia Institute of Technology, Naval Research Laboratory, Norwegian Meteorological Institute, Science Applications International Corporation, University of South Florida, University of West Florida, University of Miami, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

$15 Million. Lead Institution: University of Miami. Lead Investigator: Tamay Özgökmen, Ph.D. Project Title: “Consortium for Advanced Research of Hydrocarbon Transport in the Environment (CARTHE).” Member Institutions: City University of New York, Staten Island, Florida International University, Florida State University, Naval Postgraduate School, Naval Research Laboratory, Nova Southeastern University, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Tulane University, University of Arizona, University of Delaware, University of Texas at Austin

$11 Million.  Lead Institution: University of South Florida. Lead Investigator: Jacqueline Dixon, Ph.D. Project Title: “Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of the Gulf Ecosystem (C-IMAGE).” Member Institutions: Eckerd College, University of West Florida, Florida Institute of Oceanography, Texas A&M University, Florida State University, University of Miami, Mote Marine Laboratory, North Carolina State University, University of California at Los Angeles, University of California at San Diego, Pennsylvania State University, Leibniz Institute, Hamburg University of Technology, NHL University of Applied Sciences, University of Calgary, Wageningen University

Louisiana: $25 Million (22%)

$13 Million.  Lead Institution: Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Lead Investigator: Nancy N. Rabalais, Ph.D. Project Title: “The Effects of the Macondo Oil Spill on Coastal Ecosystems.” Member Institutions: Brigham Young University, Connecticut College, Florida Gulf Coast University, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, Louisiana State University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey, University of Louisiana, University of Maryland, University of Tennessee, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

$12 Million. Lead Institution: Tulane University. Lead Investigator: Vijay T. John, Ph.D. Project Title: “The Science and Technology of Dispersants as Relevant to Deep Sea Oil Releases.” Member Institutions: University of South Florida, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Rhode Island, Princeton University, Auburn University, Louisiana State University, City University of New York, University of Houston, University of Minnesota, University of Buffalo, Arizona State University, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, North Carolina State University, Brown University, University of Michigan, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Southern Mississippi, University of Maryland, Florida International University, Georgetown University

Mississippi: $20.8 Million (17.8%)

$20 Million. Lead Institution: University of Mississippi. Lead Investigator: Raymond Highsmith, Ph.D. Project Title: “Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG).” Member Institutions: University of Southern Mississippi, University of Georgia, Florida State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Temple University, Oregon State University, Pennsylvania State University, Columbia University, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Texas at Austin, J. Craig Venter Institute

Texas: $21.4 Million (19%)

$14.4 Million. Lead Institution: Texas A&M University at College Station. Lead Investigator: Piers Chapman, Ph.D. Project Title: “Gulf of Mexico Integrated Spill Response Consortium.” Member Institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, North Carolina State University, University of Texas at Austin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Hawaii at Manoa, University of Maryland, Georgia Institute of Technology

$7 Million. Lead Institution: The University of Texas at Austin, Marine Science Institute. Lead Investigator: Edward J. Buskey, Ph.D. Project Title: “The Impact of Biological, Physical and Chemical Processes on the Fate of Oil Spills – bridging small scale processes with meso-scale modeling,” Member Institutions: The Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Minnesota, SINTEF Norway, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Research Applied Technology Education Services (Rates)/Coastal Oil Spill Simulation System (COSS)

This is the second round of funding the GRI has provided this year. On June 30, 2011, the Research Board awarded 17 grants totaling $1.5 million to support the time-sensitive acquisition of critical samples and observations associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. Funding for these grants was awarded under the terms of an emergency request for proposals, RFP-III.

The grant recipients were selected using a competitive merit-review process.

The GRI Research Board is an independent body established by BP to administer the company’s 10-year, $500 million commitment to independent research into the effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident. Through a series of competitive grant programs, the GRI is investigating the impacts of the oil, dispersed oil, and dispersant on the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico and the affected coastal States in a broad context of improving fundamental understanding of the dynamics of such events and their environmental stresses and public health implications. The GRI also funds research that improves techniques for detecting oil and gas, spill mitigation, and technologies to characterize and remediate spills. Knowledge accrued will be applied to restoration and to improving the long-term environmental health of the Gulf of Mexico.

“I know the research community has been awaiting this announcement,” said Dr. Rita R. Colwell, Chairman of the GRI Research Board. “The GRI worked aggressively to develop RFP-I to ensure that we stimulate critically important research. The GRI has continued to work relentlessly to receive and review grants in order to make this announcement by the deadline we set last April.”

The grants were in response to RFP-I, a request for proposals the GRI Research Board issued on April 25, 2011. This request for proposals solicited applications from Research Consortia – groups of researchers with compatible expertise from four or more institutions – to address one or more of the five intellectual themes established by the GRI Research Board. These themes are: 1) Physical distribution, dispersion, and dilution of petroleum, its constituents, and associated contaminants under the action of physical oceanographic processes, air-sea interactions, and tropical storms; 2) Chemical evolution and biological degradation of the petroleum/dispersant systems and subsequent interaction with coastal, open-ocean, and deep-water ecosystems; 3) Environmental effects of the petroleum/dispersant system on the sea floor, water column, coastal waters, beach sediments, wetlands, marshes, and organisms, and the science of ecosystem recovery; 4) Technology developments for improved responses, mitigation, detection, characterization, and remediation associated with oil spills and gas releases; and 5) Fundamental scientific research integrating results from the other four themes in the context of public health.

“These Consortia establish a research community of great strength with promise of substantial achievement. The results will illuminate the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill, and enable appropriate responses should there be future releases not only in the Gulf of Mexico, but anywhere that oil and gas is produced in ocean environments. They will also assist local, state and federal agencies in their work to remediate the consequences of the oil spill in coastal and marine environments. The long term contribution of this research will be of major benefit to industry, governments, and the people who live along the Gulf of Mexico coast,” said Colwell.

“The GRI received a number of excellent proposals,” said Colwell; “Following a competitive merit review process the Research Board approved funding for eight Research Consortia. These groups will be funded for the next three years and will then be eligible to apply for additional funding.”

There will be an additional opportunity for researchers to pursue funding from the GRI. Colwell advised, “The GRI is working to develop and issue another request for proposals, RFP-II, which will award approximately $7.5 million a year in smaller grants to individual or small teams of researchers.”

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