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Characterizing the variability of benthic foraminifera in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon event (2010–2012)


Following the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) event in 2010 subsurface hydrocarbon intrusions (1000–1300 m) and an order of magnitude increase in flocculent hydrocarbon deposition caused increased concentrations of hydrocarbons in continental slope sediments. This study sought to characterize the variability [density, Fisher’s alpha (S), equitability (E), Shannon (H)] of benthic foraminifera following the DWH event. A series of sediment cores were collected at two sites in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico from 2010 to 2012. At each site, three cores were utilized for benthic faunal analysis, organic geochemistry, and redox metal chemistry, respectively. The surface intervals (∼0–10 mm) of the sedimentary records collected in December 2010 at DSH08 and February 2011 at PCB06 were characterized by significant decreases in foraminiferal density, S, E, and H, relative to the down-core intervals as well as previous surveys. Non-metric multidimensional scaling (nMDS) analysis suggested that a 3-fold increase in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentration in the surface interval, relative to the down-core interval, was the environmental driver of benthic foraminiferal variability. These records suggested that the benthic foraminiferal recovery time, following an event such as the DWH, was on the order of 1–2 years.

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This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, C-IMAGE, and DEEP-C and in part by the British Petroleum/Florida Institute of Oceanography (BP/FIO)-Gulf Oil Spill Prevention, Response, and Recovery Grants Program. The authors also thank the crew of the R/V Weatherbird II for their help during the field program. Data are publicly available through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information & Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) at https://data.gulfresearchinitiative.org/R1.x135.120:0004.

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Correspondence to P. T. Schwing.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Schwing, P.T., O’Malley, B.J., Romero, I.C. et al. Characterizing the variability of benthic foraminifera in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon event (2010–2012). Environ Sci Pollut Res 24, 2754–2769 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-016-7996-z

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  • Benthic
  • Foraminifera
  • Ecology
  • Petroleum
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Deepwater Horizon