Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Project

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The tragic events that took place on April 20, 2010 on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico took the lives of 11 people and initiated the release of oil and natural gas into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Analyses by BP confirmed that natural gas, specifically methane, was the most abundant molecular component released from this disaster. My research normally studies the natural release of methane from the ocean floor, thus investigating this anthropogenic disaster was a natural extension of the current capabilities in my laboratory. I began this project with apprehension since this incident began with the loss of human life and my research normally focuses on how the planet naturally functions outside from anthropogenic influences. Nonetheless, our goal was to make a little lemonade out of the lemons handed to us and learn something about the behavior of rapid hydrocarbon emissions in deep water in both natural as well as anthropogenic releases. More specifically, we used this situation as a natural laboratory to study the rapid (and relatively short term) release of methane and its subsequent global biogeochemical cycling. There have been many natural large and rapid releases of methane from the sea floor in the history of the planet and this event is giving us a better understanding on how these natural events functioned in the past and a better predictability on how they might cycle in the global system in the future. 


I was privileged to serve as Chief Scientist on several major research expeditions to this disaster scene. The first expedition was supported by the National Science Foundation on board the R/V Cape Hatteras from June 11-21, 2010. Several notable subsequent expeditions were supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on board the NOAA Ship Pisces in early fall of 2010. On all expeditions, we had absolutely fantastic crews as well as teams of professors, research scientists, post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduates from Texas A&M University, the University of California Santa Barbara, and Texas A&M University-Galveston. We accomplished a phenomenal amount of research with minimal time to prepare thanks to the tireless efforts of our team and specifically to the intellectual, analytical, and physical efforts of Dr. David Valentine at UCSB and Dr. Shari Yvon-Lewis at TAMU as well as their respective laboratories.


Publications to date from this project:


  • Du, M. and J.D. Kessler (2012). "Assessment of the Spatial and Temporal Variability of Bulk Hydrocarbon Respiration Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill." Environmental Science & Technology, doi: 10.1021/es301363k.
  • Ryerson, T.B., R. Camilli, J.D. Kessler, E.B. Kujawinski, C.M. Reddy, D.L. Valentine, E. Atlas, D.R. Blake, J. de Gouw, S. Meinardi, D.D. Parrish, J. Peischl, J.S. Seewald, and C. Warneke (2012). “Chemical data quantify Deepwater Horizon hydrocarbon flow rate and environmental distribution.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1110564109.
  • Kessler, J.D., D.L. Valentine, M.C. Redmond, M. Du, E.W. Chan, S.D. Mendes, E.W. Quiroz, C.J. Villanueva, S.S. Shusta, L.M. Werra, S.A. Yvon-Lewis, T.C. Weber (2011). "A Persistent Oxygen Anomaly Reveals the Fate of Spilled Methane in the Deep Gulf of Mexico."  Science, 331, 312-315, doi:10.1126/science.1199697.
  • Kessler, J. D., Valentine, D. L., Redmond, M. C., and Du, M. R. (2011) Response to Comment on "A Persistent Oxygen Anomaly Reveals the Fate of Spilled Methane in the Deep Gulf of Mexico". Science, 332, doi:10.1126/science.1203428.
  • S.A. Yvon-Lewis, L. Hu, J.D. Kessler (2011).  "Methane flux to the atmosphere from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster."  Geophysical Research Letters, 38, L01602, doi: 10.1029/2010GL045928.
  • Valentine, D.L., J.D. Kessler, M.C. Redmond, S.D. Mendes, M.B. Heintz, C. Farwell, L. Hu, F.S. Kinnaman, S.A. Yvon-Lewis, M. Du, E.W. Chan, F. Garcia-Tigreros, C.J. Villanueva (2010). "Propane respiration jump-starts microbial response to a deep oil spill."  Science, 330, 208-211, doi:10.1126/science.1196830.



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