NOAA launches website holding millions of chemical analyses from Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Sep 25, 2013

NOAA announced the release of a comprehensive, quality-controlled dataset that gives ready access to millions of chemical analyses and other data on the massive Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The dataset, collected to support oil removal activities and assess the presence of dispersants, wraps up a three year process that began with the gathering of water samples and measurements by ships in the Gulf of Mexico during and after the oil release in 2010.

NOAA was one of the principal agencies responding to the Macondo well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, and is the official ocean data archivist for the federal government. While earlier versions of the data were made available during and shortly after the response, it took three years for NOAA employees and contractors to painstakingly catalog each piece of data into this final form.

This Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill dataset, including more than two million chemical analyses of sediment, tissue, water, and oil, as well as toxicity testing results and related documentation, is available to the public online at: http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/deepwaterhorizon/specialcollections.html.

A companion dataset, including and salinity data, currents, preliminary chemical results and other properties collected and made available during the response can be found at: http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/deepwaterhorizon/insitu.html.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill response involved the collection of an enormous dataset. The underwater plume of hydrocarbon—a that consists primarily of the elements carbon and hydrogen—was a unique feature of the spill, resulting from a combination of high-pressure discharge from the well near the seafloor and the underwater application of to break up the oil.

"The size and scope of this project—the sheer number of ships and platforms collecting data, and the broad range of data types—was a real challenge. In the end, it was a great example of what can be accomplished when you bring together the expertise across NOAA, making this quality-controlled information easily available to the general public for the first time," said Margarita Gregg, Ph. D., director of the National Oceanographic Data Center, which is part of NOAA's Satellite and Information Service.

The effort to detect and track the plume was given to the Deepwater Horizon Response Subsurface Monitoring Unit (SMU), led by NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration, and included responders from many federal and state agencies and British Petroleum (BP). Between May and November 2010, the SMU coordinated data collection from 24 ships on 129 cruises.

The SMU data archived at NOAA's National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC) is already being used by researchers at NOAA and in academia for a range of studies, including models of oil plume movement and investigations of subsurface oxygen anomalies. In addition to NODC, other parts of the NOAA archive system such as NOAA's National Geophysical Data Center and the NOAA Central Library contain important holdings. Recently, the library's Deepwater Horizon Centralized Repository won recognition from the Department of Justice "as one of the best successes in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) world last year."

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