Offshore Research: Subsurface Discharge Dynamics in the Gulf of Mexico

Experience Type: 
Student Employee
Date Participated: 
June, 2013 to July, 2013
Experience Description: 

Weeks as a graduate student of the CMSS program at CCU are often spent sampling a few of the area’s tidal creeks in an effort to construct water (and nutrient) budgets that represent inputs to the coastal ocean.  However, this summer I was privileged to have participated in two research cruises in the Gulf of Mexico.  Both cruises provided the unique opportunity to meet researchers, students, teachers, and media personnel from across the country!  The first cruise included thirty science and staff members all assisting hydrocarbon related research.  Joined by Dr. Rick Peterson (assistant professor for the program), for five weeks we collected water from several depths at different stations aboard the R/V Endeavor. Our mission: to constrain subsurface discharge dynamics using naturally occurring radium isotopes.  Each of the samples collected throughout the water column, at a particular site, allow us to assess mixing and transport rates of the subsurface fluids (e.g. hydrocarbons and associated formation fluids) with ambient ocean water.  So how, might you ask, would the development of these tracers benefit anyone, at all?  This question is best answered by describing our second cruise…

It was mid-July, Dr. Peterson and I were headed to Cocodrie, Louisiana, where we would embark on a short cruise to study mixing and transport of methane and other subsurface fluids.  This effort would be especially interesting, we were to sample near the Hercules 265 Rig, a drill platform that had exploded three days prior to our arrival!  From the 58 ft. R/V Acadiana, we conducted many of the same sampling procedures as exercised aboard the Endeavor.  Using the smoldering platform as our source, we sampled the surrounding ocean for radium isotopes.  Sampling transects were assigned based on wind and current data provided by affiliated research teams such that we would capture the transport of any material leaving the rig site.     Analyses are ongoing for both cruise efforts but preliminary findings suggest these naturally occurring radium isotopes may track more than just water trapped below ground.  The ultimate goal of our radiotracer work in the Gulf is to determine the volume and rate of release of subsurface fluids (and if we happen to hit on a tracer of methane and hydrocarbon release, it is an even bigger win!).  I am hopeful to continue these investigations as I transition into the Ph.D. program and continue work with Dr. Peterson.


As mentioned, I am hopeful through the experience and exposure to many respectful professionals, to confidently chase an advanced degree.  Furthermore, this opportunity has introduced additional environments well suited for the techniques we are working with and only aided the creative development of what’s to come next!  A huge thank you to the program, supportive individuals therein, the funding agencies, and collaborators –I look forward to what awaits!