Aberdeen University scientists to probe effects of deep-oil blow-outs in North Atlantic

Aberdeen University MAC-EXP Oceanlab undergoing pre-mission tests
The Oceanlab undergoing pre-mission tests

Scientists from Aberdeen University are due to sail to the North Atlantic to test pioneering research equipment that will help improve understanding of how deep ocean ecosystems function and respond to a major oil spill.

The Multi-Autoclave-Coring and Experimentation Unit (MAC-EXP), which has been developed at the university’s Oceanlab facility and funded through a £500,000 grant from the National Environmental Research Council, will enable researchers to test the ability of organisms found in deep water environments to deal with the effects of a spill.

 By removing sediment from the ocean floor and keeping the sample under the same pressures experienced in deep water environments while carrying out experiments, the device will provide information that will help inform the approach towards protecting areas of the deep ocean that are subject to oil exploration and extraction, such as west of Shetland.

The experiments will take place aboard the deep-sea research vessel RRS Discovery, which will sail to the North Atlantic continental margins on Friday, 13 May.

Professor Ursula Witte, who is leading the research, said: “The <BP> Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a stark reminder of the risks attached to human activity in largely unknown extreme environments.

“It was estimated that up to 1.1 million barrels of leaked oil may have accumulated in the sediment, contaminating a massive area of the sea floor.

“With oil and gas exploration taking place in deeper waters there is an urgent need to improve our understanding of deep-sea ecosystems to assess the potential impact and implications of these activities, to ensure the adequate management of deep-sea biodiversity and natural resources

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