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Plenary Lectures and Presentations

Wednesday, 15 February 2011

10:30 to 12:00, Ballroom A – PRCC

Dr. Nancy N. Rabalais

Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Chauvin, LA

Presentation: Oilmageddon, Dead Zones and Vanishing Land

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The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was an engineering, economic and socio-ecological failure that brought the attention of the world to the northern Gulf of Mexico. The immediate response was astonishment, followed by horror, anger, denial, action, perseverance and recovery. The oil gusher (not a leak, not a spill, not an incident) was an immediate environmental insult, and as yet unknown short- and long-term impact. Attention was focused on how the oil spill was affecting oceanic ecosystems, coastal habitats, coastal communities, and the health and resilience of plankton, blue fin tuna, and spill workers, not to forget the local and global economy. Attention was also drawn to the fragile and already-damaged condition of the northern Gulf of Mexico. The image of dots on a map of oilfield drilling and production platforms, including many in deep water, and the pipelines that connect them to shore is a spider-web denser off Louisiana than elsewhere. The inshore maze of pipeline canals, access canals, and navigation channels dices up the fragile deltaic landscape. The engineered Mississippi River is no longer the winding, sediment-laden “Big Muddy” that formed the deltaic plain and current bird-foot delta over the last seven thousand years. The Mississippi and its tributaries, floodplains and watersheds are no longer efficient at handling the magnitude of nutrients loaded onto it by human beings and their activities, and a world-class “dead zone” forms in the Gulf every spring and summer. Yet, we are now challenged with a Presidential Executive Order that calls for an integration of Federal efforts with those of local stakeholders to initiate and pursue complex, large-scale restoration projects. We face many opportunities and many challenges.

Biographical Information: Nancy Rabalais is the executive director and a professor at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON). Her research interests include the dynamics of hypoxic environments, interactions of large rivers with the coastal ocean, estuarine and coastal eutrophication, benthic ecology, and science policy. She currently serves on a National Research Council committee, the Council for the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, the Board of Trustees for the Consortium on Ocean Leadership, the National Sea Grant Advisory Board, and Board of Directors for the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System. Nancy is an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, an Aldo Leopold Leadership Program Fellow, and a National Associate of the National Academies of Science, in addition to earning several research awards. She earned her Ph.D. in zoology from The University of Texas at Austin in 1983.