Coastal river-dominated oceans are physically complex, biologically productive, and intimately connected to human socioeconomic activity. The Deepwater Horizon blowout and subsequent advection of oil into coastal waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico (nGOM) highlighted the complex linkages among oceanographic processes within this river-dominated system and knowledge gaps about it that resulted in imprecise information on both oil transport and ecosystem consequences. The interdisciplinary research program implemented through the CONsortium for oil exposure pathways in COastal River-Dominated Ecosystems (CONCORDE) is designed to identify and quantitatively assess key physical, biological, and geochemical processes acting in the nGOM, in order to provide the foundation for implementation of a synthesis model (coupled circulation and biogeochemistry) of the nGOM shelf system that can ultimately aid in prediction of oil spill transport and impacts. CONCORDE field and modeling efforts in 2015–2016 focused on defining the influence of freshwater input from river plumes in the nGOM. In situ observations, combined with field-deployed and simulated drifters, show considerable variability in the spatial extent of freshwater influence that is related to wind direction and strength. Increased primary production and particle abundance (a proxy for secondary production) was observed during the spring when nGOM shelf waters were becoming stratified. Zooplankton and marine snow displayed intense vertical and horizontal patchiness during all seasons, often aggregating near the halocline. Simulations of a neutrally buoyant tracer released offshore of the Mississippi Bight showed surface advection of low tracer concentrations onto the inner shelf under high river discharge, high stratification, and variable wind conditions compared to almost no advection onto the inner shelf under low discharge, negligible stratification, and generally northeasterly winds. The interconnectedness of environmental variables and biological activity indicate that multiple factors can affect the transport of oil and the resulting ecological impacts. The process-oriented understanding provided by CONCORDE is necessary to predict ecosystem-level impacts of oil spills, and these results are applicable to other river-dominated coastal systems worldwide that often support oil extraction activities.
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Volume 31, No. 3
Pages 90 - 103
Functioning of Coastal River-Dominated Ecosystems and Implications for Oil Spill Response: From Observations to Mechanisms and Models
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