Case Study: Using a Combined Laboratory, Field, and Modeling Approach to Assess Oil Spill Impacts

  • Sandy RaimondoEmail author
  • Jill A. Awkerman
  • Susan Yee
  • Mace G. Barron


The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) spill was the largest oil spill in US history, requiring an assessment of injuries to nearshore habitats and estuarine organisms. Developing a model of appropriate complexity is critical in an environmental assessment; models should be complex enough to adequately address the assessment objectives without being more complex than is needed. We present an approach that starts with a sensitivity analysis of an initial assumption-based model to prioritize model parameters and focus research efforts to reduce model uncertainty. We then develop a targeted research strategy that utilized laboratory, field, and intermediate modeling efforts to parameterize a final set of models of varying complexity to evaluate risk. We demonstrate this process in a case study of the small estuarine fish, the sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus), exposed to weathered oil in Barataria Bay, LA, following the DWH oil spill.


Population-level risk assessment Model complexity Uncertainty Spatially explicit 



We thank Alex Almario, George Craven, Geraldine Cripe, Adam Glahn, Becky Hemmer, Julie Krzywka, Crystal Lilivois, Bob Quarles, Hannah Rutter, and Deborah Vivian for their support during the research described here. The views expressed in this chapter are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the US Environmental Protection Agency.


  1. Awkerman JA, Hemmer B, Almario A, Jackson CR, Barron MG, Raimondo S (2016) Spatially explicit risk assessment of estuarine fish after Deepwater Horizon Oil spill: trade-off in complexity and parsimony. Ecol Appl 26:1708–1720CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baker MC, Steinhoff MA, Fricano GF (2017) Integrated effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on nearshore ecosystems. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 576:219–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barron MG (2012) Ecological impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: implications for immunotoxicity. Toxicol Pathways 40:315–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bennett WA, Beitinger TL (1997) Temperature tolerance of the sheepshead minnow, Cyprinodon variegatus. Copeia 1997:77–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown-Peterson NJ, Krasnec MO, Lay CR, Morris JM, Griffitt RJ (2017) Responses of juvenile southern flounder exposed to Deepwater Horizon oil-contaminated sediment. Environ Toxicol Chem 36:1067–1076CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Caswell H (2001) Matrix population models. Sinauer Associates, Inc, Sunderland, MAGoogle Scholar
  7. Chitty JD, Able KW (2004) Habitat use, movements and growth of the sheepshead minnow, Cyprinodon variegates, in a restored salt marsh in Delaware Bay. Bull New Jersey Acad Sci 49:1–8Google Scholar
  8. Cripe GM, Hemmer BL, Goodman LR, Fournie JW, Raimondo S, Vennari JC, Danner RL, Smith K, Manfredonia BR, Kulaw DH, Hemmer MJ (2009) Multigenerational exposure of the estuarine sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegates) to 17a-estradiol. I. Organism-level effects over three generations. Environ Toxicol Chem 28:2397–2408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Haney DC (1999) Osmoregulation in the sheepshead minnow, Cyprinodon variegatus: Influence of a fluctuating salinity regime. Estuaries 22:1071–1077CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hardy JD (1978) Development of fishes of the mid-Atlantic Bight. An atlas of egg, larval and juvenile stages. Volume II. Anguillidae through Syngnathida. FWS/OBS-78/12. Final Report. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  11. Kinne O, Kinne EM (1962) Rates of development in embryos of the cyprinodont fish exposed to different temperature-salinity-oxygen combinations. Can J Zool 40:231–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lehuta S, Mahevas S, Petitgas P, Pelletier D (2010) Combining sensitivity and uncertainty analysis to evaluate the impact of management measures with ISIS – Fish: marine protected areas for the Bay of Biscay anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) fishery. ICES J Mar Sci 67(5):1063–1075CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lin Q, Mendelssohn IA (2012) Impacts and recovery of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on vegetation structure and function of coastal salt marshes in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Environ Sci Technol 46:3737–3743CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Mahmoudi N, Porter TM, Zimmerman AR, Fulthorpe RR, Kasozi GN, Silliman BR, Slater GF (2013) Rapid degradation of Deepwater Horizon spilled oil by indigenous microbial communities in Louisiana saltmarsh sediments. Environ Sci Technol 47:13303–13312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Michel J, Owens EH, Zengel S, Graham A, Nixon Z et al (2013) Extent and degree of shoreline oiling: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Gulf of Mexico, USA. PLoS One 8(6):e65087CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Nordlie FG (2000) Patterns of Reproduction and development of selected resident teleosts in Florida salt marshes. Hydrobiologia 434:165–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Raimondo S (2012) Incorporating temperature-driven seasonal variation in survival, growth, and reproduction into population models for small fish. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 469:101–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Raimondo S (2013) Density dependent functional forms drive compensation in populations exposed to stressors. Ecol Model 265:149–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Raimondo S, Hemmer BL, Goodman LR, Cripe GM (2009) Multigenerational exposure of the estuarine sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegates) to 17a-estradiol. II. Population-level effects through two life cycles. Environ Toxicol Chem 28:2409–2415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Raimondo S, Rutter H, Jackson CR, Hemmer BL, Cripe GM (2013) The influence of density on adults and juveniles of the estuarine fish, the sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus). J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 439:69–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Raimondo S, Jackson CR, Krzykwa J, Hemmer BL, Barron MG (2014) Developmental toxicity of Louisiana crude oiled-spiked sediment to zebrafish. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf 108:265–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Raimondo S, Hemmer BL, Jackson CR, Krzykwa J, Almario A, Awkerman JA, Barron MG (2016) Effects of Louisiana crude oil on the sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus) during a life-cycle exposure to laboratory oiled sediment. Environ Toxicol 31:1627–1639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Raimondo S, Etterson M, Pollesch N, Garber K, Kanarek A, Lehmann W, Awkerman J (2018) A framework for linking population model development with ecological risk assessment objectives. Integr Environ Assess Manag 14:369–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Rozas LP, Minello TJ (1997) Estimating densities of small fishes and decapod crustaceans in shallow estuarine habitats: A review of sampling design with focus on gear selection. Estuaries 20:199–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Rutter H, Norberg M, Raimondo S (2012) Comparison of cultured and wild sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus) health condition metrics used in toxicity effects assessment. Gulf Mexico Sci 30(1–2):60–64Google Scholar
  26. Schmolke A, Thorbek P, DeAngelis DL, Grimm V (2010) Ecological models supporting environmental decision making: a strategy for the future. Trends Ecol Evol 25:479–486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Silliman BR, van de Koppel J, McCoy MW, Diller J, Kasozi GN, Earl K, Adams PN, Zimmerman AR (2012) Degradation and resilience in Louisiana salt marshes after the BP–Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Proc Natl Acad Sci. Scholar
  28. Sutton RJ (2002) Summer movements of desert pupfish among habitats at the Salton Sea. In: Barnum DA, Elder JF, Stephens D, Friend M (eds) The Salton Sea. Developments in hydrobiology, vol 161. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 223–228Google Scholar
  29. Turner RE, Overton EB, Meyer BM, Miles MS, McClenachan G, Hooper-Bui L, Engel AS, Swenson EM, Lee JM, Milan CS, Gao H (2014) Distribution and recovery trajectory of Macondo (Mississippi Canyon 252) oil in Louisiana coastal wetlands. Mar Pollut Bull 87:57–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. US EPA (2009) Summary report: risk assessment forum technical workshop on population-level ecological risk assessment. EPA/100/R-09/006. US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply 2020 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandy Raimondo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jill A. Awkerman
    • 1
  • Susan Yee
    • 1
  • Mace G. Barron
    • 1
  1. 1.US Environmental Protection Agency, Gulf Ecology DivisionGulf BreezeUSA

Personalised recommendations