UT’s Engel Co-Investigator on Grant Funded Through Oil Spill Penalties

Annette Engel at a marsh.

A UT earth and planetary sciences professor is co-principal investigator on a project that will study how practices to restore coastal marshes and lands are impacting marsh food webs.

“Our results will help Gulf of Mexico resource managers to plan coastal marsh restoration efforts to combat land loss in the future,” said Annette Engel, the UT Jones Professor of Aqueous Geochemistry.

The project recently received a $2 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s RESTORE Science Program. NOAA disbursed a total of $16.7 million to fund various research projects from penalties paid by parties responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Michael Polito of Louisiana State University will lead Engel’s research team. Other collaborators include researchers from Rutgers University; the University of Florida; Michigan Technological University; and Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

Coastal land loss is a significant problem in Louisiana and elsewhere around the world, Engel said. Over the next three years, the team of 10 researchers, along with their students and research staff, will conduct field work together in northern Barataria Bay, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. It is where the Mississippi River water and its sediment are diverted into the nearby natural salt marshes and created marshes from previous restoration projects.

“The river diversions change the salinity of the water in the marshes, and little is known about the effects of these diversions on salt marsh ecosystems,” Engel said.

The UT group will sample sediment, soil, and water from the marshes, and other researchers will collect plant, insect, and fish samples.

“We will use genetics, chemistry methods, and computer modeling approaches to determine what lives in the natural and created marshes, and to understand how food and nutrients move through the different types of marsh ecosystems,” Engel said.

The UT researchers will focus on the microbial communities and metabolic changes that affect the food web dynamics.

The researchers expect to find differences in the natural marshes when they compare them to man-made marshes, Engel said.

“But, what we don’t know is what these differences will mean as far as specific ecosystem conditions or functions, especially depending on the timing of restoration,” she said.

CONTACT:

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, lalapo@utk.edu)