Gulf of Mexico Shipwreck Corrosion, Hydrocarbon Exposure, Microbiology, and Archaeology Project (GOM-SCHEMA)

Lead PI: Dr. Leila Hamdan, School of Ocean Science and Technology, University of Southern Mississippi
Start Year: 2013 | Duration: 4 Years
Partners: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Naval Research Laboratory – Washington, DC and Stennis Space Center, Office of Naval Research, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, George Mason University, University of Southern Mississippi, Oceaneering, Inc. (formerly C&C Technologies, Inc.), Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, PAST Foundation, Montana State University, Droycon Bioconcepts, Inc.

Historic shipwrecks serve as artificial reefs and hotspots of diversity in the deepwater environment. Because of their inherent diversity compared to the surrounding environment and their random distribution on the seafloor, shipwrecks are ideal ecosystem monitoring platforms. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, an interdisciplinary team of scientists from Federal agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector initiated a partnership to examine the impacts of the spill on deepwater historic shipwreck microbiomes. This project examined changes in microbial biodiversity and degradation/corrosion processes at wooden- and steel-hulled historic shipwrecks in differentially spill-impacted and unimpacted areas. The project adopted a multiscalar approach to address micro-, meso-, and macroscale impacts through microbial ecological and archaeological analyses. Changes in microbiome structure and function inform microscale impacts while innovative 3D optical (laser) and 3D acoustic (sonar) scans of shipwrecks inform meso- to macroscale impacts vis-à-vis observable changes in degradation/corrosion and other site formation processes. This coupled biological and archaeological approach bridges the gap between micro- and macroscale impacts by comparatively analyzing pre- and post-spill data collected at each site, wooden- versus steel-hulled shipwrecks within similarly impacted or unimpacted areas, and sites within impacted versus unimpacted areas. By analyzing the microbial response to hydrocarbon and chemical dispersant exposure, we can begin to understand the role microbial communities play in marine archaeological site formation, artificial reef formation, and shipwreck degradation as a result of the spill. Collectively, this information provides the basis for long-term monitoring of archaeological site preservation as well as ecosystem recovery.


Learn more about GOM-SCHEMA on the USM and BOEM project websites.


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