Science in a Time of Crisis

Science in a Time of Crisis

On April 20, 2010, a British Petroleum/Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and unleashing millions of gallons of oil into the marine environment.

It was soon dubbed “the worst accidental oil spill in history,” but scientists have been as yet unable to pinpoint the precise amount of oil spilled or the impacts it will have on the Gulf ecosystem.

Working with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientists and staff, UnderCurrent Production’s Daniel Cojanu and independent producer Jenette Restivo created a video “case study” outlining the institution’s involvement in solving one of the greatest environmental “crime scenes” in US history.

Published to coincide with the one-year anniversary after the disaster, the Science in a Time of Crisis tackles six important areas of oil spill research conducted by WHOI scientists.

The first, Oil Spill Pioneers, goes back to a 1969 oil spill that took place in Buzzards Bay, a stone’s throw away from UnderCurrent Productions (and WHOI) offices. Retired oceanographers John Farrington and George Hampson reflect on how they learned to identify an oil “fingerprint,” lessons that were employed— with slightly newer technology— by WHOI scientists Chris Reddy and Rich Camilli in their Gulf of Mexico investigation, just 40 years later.

The other videos show just how the scientists adapted technology to descend over two miles below the ocean surface to sample the oil, estimate its velocity, and track the plume of hydrocarbons flowing from the deepwater well.

Tracking the Currents follows scientists’ efforts to accurately model the elusive Loop Current, which made national headlines after the spill, due to fears that the oil would be carried around Florida and up the East Coast on this powerful ocean current.

Assessing the Impacts takes viewers to the ocean deep, where corals and other members of the marine ecosystem are in danger of serious damage from the oil and dispersants released in the deep ocean. Ongoing research continues to tackle the long-term effects of the oil spill, giving future scientists and policymakers the answers they’ll need to prevent similar disasters in the future.