Tom Bianchi blogs from field work in the Louisiana wetlands and marshes
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Work continues at the laboratories (Bianchi) July 23, 2010

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Paulina Kolic in the labPhoto right: Paulina Kolic examines dissolved organic matter (DOM) samples using fluorescence spectroscopy in Robert Cook’s lab at Louisiana State University (LSU) (Department of Chemistry). Photo below left: Michael Perdue’s student, Yaoling Zhang from Georgia Tech, is using the newly developed reverse osmosis/electrodialysis system to concentrate DOM and remove salts from the marsh waters - also being conducted in Robert Cook’s lab at LSU.  Yaoling Zhang in the labIt will take a few weeks of work for these students to concentrate the 2 metric tons of water that was collected from the four marsh sites in Barataria Bay. 


Photos from the sampling areas July 20, 2010 (Bianchi)

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No time for a real entry today! Below are some photos from our work.

Nelson Green, student samplingPhoto right: Nelson Green, student, sampling waters.
Photo left: Tom Bianchi and the Barataria Bay wetlands.

Tom Bianchi with wetlands behind him













Paulina Kolic photoPaulina Kolic , graduate student with Rob Cook from LSU.












New growth in grassesPhotos of the wetland regions showing damage and regrowth. Closeup of regrowth area.

Shoreline with oil booms in place

Areas of grass growth

Today we sampled the contaminated marshes which, in fact, appear to represent a relatively small fraction of the total marshes we observed in these regions of Barataria Bay.

Contamination of the marsh grassesPhoto right: marsh death behind the oil booms in Barataria Bay

As you can see in the photo there was significant marsh death in the oiled regions, however we already see new shoots of marsh plants beginning to occur.  Assistant Professor Alex Kolker from LUMCON, noted these new shoots of Spartina plants beginning to occur in these contaminated areas. While this is very encouraging in terms of marsh recovery, the amount of suspended particulates was considerably higher. Filtered water had a distinct oil smell which will likely result in higher dissolved organic matter concentrations, that can potentially allow bacteria to transfer these hydrocarbons to higher trophic levels in the marsh. 

This remains to be determined over the next few weeks as data is gathered at Texas A&M (Thomas Bianchi lab), LSU (Rob Cook lab), and Georgia Tech (Michael Perdue lab). 

Louisiana Fisheries and Wildlife research stationTomorrow, we will sample another contaminated site and then make our way back to LSU where the dissolved organic matter will be concentrated using reverse osmosis electrodialysis.

(Photo right: Louisiana Fisheries and Wildlife research station)

Overall, the fish activity, bird life and even crabs in the marshes seem more active that expected in the contaminated regions. Nevertheless, if the tissues of these animals continue to accumulate hydrocarbons that could impact higher trophic levels.   The graduate students at LSU (Paulina Kolic), Georgia Tech (Nelson Green and Yaoling Zhang), and LUMCON (Alex Ameen) have all been working diligently in sampling many thousands of liters of water from these sites.

Tomorrow, we do it again.

broken oil boomsToday we began our sampling of dissolved organic matter in Barataria Bay.  It was also the first day that recreational fisheries were opened after being closed for 3 months.

Photo right: broken oil booms.

While the BP leak has been temporarily stopped, we still see many boats attending to broken booms that have collapsed around small islands of mangroves and marshes.

Robert Cook in cool roomPhoto left: Robert Cook, analytical chemist in the cool room with sample bottles.

The primary station we collected from today is in a region believed to have not been affected by oil contamination.  We will use this as a baseline for our comparisons with the two contaminated stations in the bay we will sample tomorrow.  Because we have to filter so much water at each site it takes approximately 4 hours at each station. Once we return to the Louisiana Fisheries and Wildlife research station, where we are staying, we store the filtered water in plastic carboys in a cold room.

Alex Kolker, piloting boatThe salinity of water was in the range of about 8 at our "uncontaminated" and had an oxygen value of 4 mg/L.  The low salinities observed today may be a reflection of the opening of the Davis Pond Diversion gate in the northern part of the bay which has allowed Mississippi River water to enter the at approximately 10,000 cubic feet/ sec. in an attempt to keep the oil out of the bay.

Photo right: Alex Kolker, piloting the boat, a wetland scientist at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON).

Unfortunately, some oysterman have reported that this has killed some of their oyster beds because of the rapid reduction in salinity. Further work would be needed to validate these reports. 

Across the road from our facility, the beaches along Grand Isle have the glow of large city.  This surreal setting has a with fast numbers of white tent stations, bulldozers, people in white and orange garb, and in evening, bright work lights that blind the eye.   All of this is connected to a large metal structure with that is being used as part of the oil separation process in cleaning beach sands.

Barataria Bay wetland

Photo right: Barataria Bay

Tomorrow we sample two contaminated sites in the bay.  

The plan is for us to mobilize to Baton Rouge on Thursday so that we can all take a HazMat course at Louisiana State University (LSU), which will then be followed by our driving to Grand Isle, Louisiana, on Thursday evening (July 14th) to prepare for sampling in the marshes of Barataria Bay on Friday morning.  This sampling effort will involve sampling at two oil contaminated and two "clean" sites  where we will measure oxygen, pH, and filter numerous liters of water.  We will likely sample two sites per day since thousands of liters of water need to be collected, we will be sampling from a 10 m long boat rented from Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON). 

There will be two graduate students of Co-PI Michael Perdue from Georgia Tech (Nelson Green and Yaoling Zhang) who will be responsible for the reverse osmosis-electro-dialysis (RO/ED) work. They will concentrate dissolved organic matter (DOM) by removing all the salts.

oil in wetlands - National Geographic photoRobert Cook (Co-PI) and his graduate students (Paulina Kolic)  from LSU will also participate in the sampling but will largely be responsible for solid-state carbon nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (13C-NMR), fluorescence, and UV-FTIR analyses of the DOM samples.

Oil in the marshlands (photo by National Geographic)

Alex Kolker, a scientist from LUMCON, and expert of marsh ecosystems will also collaborate with this team in getting samples from the marshes. 

Once we have collected approximately 4000 L of water we will transport this water in a refrigerated truck to LSU where the DOM will be stored in large cold rooms and then concentrated using RO/ED over the next two weeks.  Once this DOM has been concentrated, samples will be sent to the Cook, Perdue, and Bianchi labs for chemical characterization of this material to determine differences between "clean" and contaminated sites.  This information will allow us to assess how the decomposition of dying marshes affects the composition of DOM in the marshes, which represents an integrative index of the "health" of many ecological processes involving plants, animals, and bacteria.  these early chemical signatures of marshes hat have impacted will be critical in determining the long-term effects of oil contamination on Louisiana marshes. 

Photographs from National Geographic. This project is funded by NSF, Chemistry Division, Environmental Chemical Sciences.


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