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ODU's Eileen Hofmann on Oil Spill Research Team

Eileen Hofmann, professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences at Old Dominion University, will share in an $11 million grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) for environmental studies funded by the petroleum company BP in response to the Macondo/Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout in 2010.

She is part of a research team led by the University of Southern Mississippi marine scientist Monty Graham that will conduct a three-year research project titled "Consortium for Oil Spill Exposure Pathways in Coastal River-Dominated Ecosystems."

On Nov. 14, GoMRI announced grants totaling $140 million to 12 research consortia. The projects will begin early next year.

ODU previously announced that Patrick Hatcher, the university's Batten Endowed Chair of Physical Sciences, will be an investigator for a $7.2 million GoMRI grant led by Texas A&M University. He is part of a research team that will conduct a three-year study titled "Role of Microbial Exopolymers in Aggregation and Degradation of Oil and Dispersants."

Hofmann has been a faculty member at ODU since 1989 and is recognized for work on coupled physical-biological models with research interests in the areas of understanding physical-biological interactions in marine ecosystems, climate control of diseases of marine shellfish populations, descriptive physical oceanography and mathematical modeling of marine ecosystems. She has also worked in a variety of marine environments, most recently several continental shelf regions around Antarctica and Delaware Bay.

In January, Hofmann will become president-elect of the Ocean Sciences section of the American Geophysical Union, and she will assume the presidency in 2017.

Graham, who is chairman of USM's Department of Marine Science, said in an USM news release that the consortium he leads will work on the near-shore waters in the northern Gulf of Mexico. "Deepwater Horizon revealed many surprises including formation of deep plumes and impacts to wetlands. One of the major missing linkages is how oil interacted with the nearshore environment around the large river inputs of the north central Gulf," he added.

Hofmann said her contribution to the project will be the "development of a coupled biogeochemical-circulation model that will be used to look at plankton processes and production and potential impacts from oil and environmental variability."

The consortium's research also will focus on understanding of how coastal marine ecosystems respond to, and recover from, large-magnitude oiling events.

Other than USM and ODU, other institutions and facilities represented in this consortium are the Department of Marine Science located at Stennis Space Center, the Gulf Coast Research Lab, Mississippi State University, Rutgers University, Oregon State University, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, University of Montana and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

Together, the 12 research consortia that received GoMRI grants will conduct scientific studies of the impacts of oil, dispersed oil and dispersant on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and public health. These research investments focus on improving fundamental understanding of the implications of events such as the Macondo well blowout, and on developing improved spill mitigation, oil and gas detection, characterization and remediation technologies.

The consortia were chosen following a competitive, merit review process that evaluated research applications submitted to GoMRI in response to its RFP-IV program solicitation. Forty-seven research proposals were received.

For the past several years, GoMRI has reached out to the public health research community. "It was clear that research on public health is needed," said Rita Colwell, chairman of the GoMRI Research Board. "I'm pleased that in this round of awards there are funds to study public health issues in the Gulf of Mexico region associated with the oil spill. We are also funding research focused on increasing our knowledge of the biology of the Gulf and the interaction of oil with the ecosystem."

This is the second round of funding provided by GoMRI to consortia - research groups consisting of a lead investigator and collaborators from four or more other institutions.

"A significant benefit of our prior support is increased collaboration among scientists and institutions across the Gulf. This round of funding will continue to build a research community focused on understanding the dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem," said Colwell.

Research consortia selected for funding in addition to the ones with which Hofmann and Hatcher will work are: Nova Southeastern University, "Deep-Pelagic Nekton Dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico;" University of Miami - Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, "Relationship of Effects of Cardiac Outcomes in Fish for Validation of Ecological Risk;" University of Texas at Austin, "Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies;" University of Louisiana at Lafayette, "Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center;" Marine Environmental Sciences Consortium/Dauphin Island Sea Lab, "Alabama Center for Ecological Resilience;" Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, "Coastal Waters Consortium;" University of Miami, "The Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment II;" RAND Corporation Gulf States Policy Institute, "Consortium for Resilient Gulf Communities;" University of Georgia, "Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf - 2;" University of South Florida, "The Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems II."

GoMRI is a 10-year research initiative established in 2010 and funded by a $500 million commitment by BP. GoMRI is administered by an independent Research Board, which consists of 20 experts in science, research administration, and public health. The Research Board evaluates research proposals following merit review guidelines of the National Academies of Science and procedures similar to those of the U.S. National Science Foundation. All funding decisions are made by the Research Board, which is independent of BP and not connected to the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process.