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Stop-gap funds will support summer research on oil spill

oilspill.260.jpgThe Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) Research Board today awarded US$1.5 million in funds to 17 scientists doing research on the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Short term funding made available in these grants will allow researchers to collect crucial summer data, tiding them over until more of BP’s funds become available in the fall.

“We’re elated,” says marine botanist Suzanne Fredericq from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who received one of the awards. She will use the funds to continue data gathering on seaweed and crustacean recovery deep in the Gulf of Mexico. “Otherwise we would miss an entire summer.”

The board determined in early May that it needed to make some emergency stop-gap funds available for summer data gathering. Since the review process for grants under the original requests for proposals (RFP-I and RFP-II) had been delayed, most funding wouldn’t reach researchers until the September. The first year’s funding ended June 1.

“We didn’t want to miss those three months,” says Rita Colwell, former director of the US National Science Foundation and the chair of the 20-member GRI research board. “If this is going to be a full 10-year study, it certainly would not be scientifically appropriate to have a three-month gap between June and September.”

So the board issued RFP-III on 10 June with a due date of 17 June. That sent researchers into a one-week scramble to throw together their applications.

“That’s the week my wife was having a baby,” says remote sensing scientist Deepak Mishra of Mississippi State University, who will use his award to fund field studies that calibrate satellite measurements of marshland productivity. “I was writing the proposal from the hospital.”

The GRI received over 100 applications for the short-term funding, which will fund projects between 1 July and 30 September. After that, larger awards under RFP-I, and later RFP-II, will be granted to research consortia and small research groups for longer term study. Grant proposals for RFP-I are due July 11.

“It can be crucial to continue environmental work in a sequence so you know what’s going on during certain times of the year,” says marine ecologist Susan Bell of University of South Florida, who is grateful for a grant that will enable her to continue monitoring the recovery of invertebrates on sandy beaches affected by the spill. “Summer can be a very critical time.”

BP pledged $500 million over 10 years to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: $50 million each year. They gave out $40 million last year to select institutions, but the bulk of the funds won’t be awarded until this fall. Many scientists have previously been critical of the bureaucracy involved in the roll-out of GRI cash (see Gulf research cash still in limbo)

Though many more researchers were not funded for the summer, one of the stipulations of the grant is that those who do receive an RFP-III grant make their summer data available to other researchers who request it. As a result, many scientists who can’t afford to gather samples on their own dime could still benefit from the grants.

For more on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, see our special.


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