The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI) research board today announced its long-awaited request for proposals from researchers who want to use British Petroleum (BP) funds to study the effects of last year’s Gulf Coast Oil spill. Interdisciplinary teams of researchers may now apply for funding to conduct studies that address one of five themes.
“We have designed a thoroughly detailed and fully transparent process based on the processes of the National Science Foundation,” says Rita Colwell, former director of the US National Science Foundation and the chair of the 20-member GRI research board. “The overall goal is to develop an understanding of the effects of oil and hydrocarbon gas components on the ecosystem, the resilience of the ecosystem and the overall weaving of the themes into the basis for public health.”
On 24 May 2010, BP pledged US$500 million over 10 years to create a program for studying the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which took place beginning 20 April 2010 about 80 kilometers off the coast of Louisiana. At the outset, $40 million in fast-track funds went to a few Gulf Coast institutions to get research rolling, but the remaining money has been held up, pending a request for proposals [RFP] acceptable to board members and stakeholders. Researchers have been frustrated by the delay in the distribution of these funds.
“I’m very glad they money is out on the street finally,” says Tracy Villareal, a biological oceanographer at the University of Texas at Austin in Port Aransas. “There’s going to be a great deal of excitement with people trying to put together their proposals, their consortia.”
But a 30 August start date for funding means any more research will be further delayed, he says. Researchers are concerned they’re missing out on crucial early testing opportunities to look at effects on this year’s spawning and nesting seasons. “It’s a bit unfortunate that the money can’t possibly be in the university coffers until sometime in September. Most of the summer field season will be lost,” he says.
Under the board’s first request, called RFP-1, the GRI will review proposals from research consortia, defined as collaborations between at least four institutions. Four to eight consortia will be selected and funded for a maximum of three years and will receive between US$1 million to $7.5 million annually. RFP-II, to be issued “at a later date,” will elicit research proposals from individual principal investigators or small groups of them, also for the first three years of the program. The board will monitor research progress, and will need to approve continued funding for each of the three years. It will review new research proposals for 2014.
In total, US$50 million will be distributed annually each year for ten years by GRI for research that falls into five categories:
– how oil, gas and contaminants were dispersed and distributed by oceanographic processes, air-sea interactions and tropical storms
– how the chemicals changed over time and how they affected the coastal, open-ocean, and deep-water ecosystems.
– environmental effects on the sea floor, water column, coastal waters, beach sediments, wetlands, marshes and organisms; and study of ecosystem recovery
– technology developments for better response to oil spills and gas releases
– effects on public health
The research board requires potential consortia to submit a letter of intent by 9 May, outlining their
research goals and collaborations. These will be published publicly to alert other researchers to possible collaborative opportunities and avoid conflicts of interest for reviewers needed in the review process.
Formal proposals are due by 11 July, stating the interest, approach and qualifications of the consortium.
Image: U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Tamargo