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Deep Pelagic Ecosystem Dynamics in a Highly Impacted Water Column: The Gulf of Mexico After Deepwater Horizon

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The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (DWHOS) was primarily a deep-pelagic event. Variable amounts of discharged hydrocarbons and dispersant reached the surface and/or seafloor, whereas 100% occurred within the water column, with a massive hydrocarbon plume observed at ~1100 m. The DWHOS highlighted the paucity of ...

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (DWHOS) was primarily a deep-pelagic event. Variable amounts of discharged hydrocarbons and dispersant reached the surface and/or seafloor, whereas 100% occurred within the water column, with a massive hydrocarbon plume observed at ~1100 m. The DWHOS highlighted the paucity of baseline data for deep-ocean ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) and elsewhere. Given the increasing drive toward deepwater oil exploration and operations, and the likelihood of similar spill catastrophes, acute and chronic effects on deep-pelagic fauna need to be documented. The deep pelagial was by far the largest GoM habitat affected by the DWHOS.

The primary goals of DEEPEND (Deep-Pelagic Nekton Dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico; www.deependconsortium.org), a 5-year, 70-member, 22-organization research consortium, have been to characterize the biotic composition, distribution, and abundance of deep-pelagic (0-1500 m depth) assemblages after the DWHOS, using a suite of integrated approaches. These approaches include: 1) a direct assessment of GoM deep-pelagic community structure, with simultaneous investigation of the physical and biological (including microbial) drivers of this structure, in order to document `natural' variability against which longer-term disturbance and recovery trends can be detected; 2) a time-series, `hindcast', biophysical modeling approach comparing data from 2015- 2016- 2017 (DEEPEND sampling) to available 2010-2011 data collected shortly after the DWHOS; 3) an assessment of recovery capacity of the GoM as a function of connectivity with adjacent ocean basins; and 4) an assessment of the extant and potential future consequences of the DWHOS on the shallow and deep-pelagic biota.

For this Research Topic, we will assemble 19 papers covering much of the gamut of DEEPEND's research. We will begin with a description of DEEPEND (Sutton et al.), including the overall aims, approaches, and rationale for studying the patterns and processes of the oceanic Gulf of Mexico as related to the DWHOS. We follow with a detailed methodology paper (Cook et al.), from which the bulk of DEEPEND studies were derived. The remaining papers represent five cross-cutting themes: 1) Pelagic community abundance and distribution (10 papers, encompassing microbial biota, gelatinous zooplankton, pelagic macrocrustaceans, cephalopods, and fishes); 2) time-series analysis (4 papers, encompassing petrogenic contamination, assemblage structure, and population genetics); 3) environmental drivers (3 papers); 4) taxonomy (2 papers, new species discoveries), and 5) trophic interactions (1 paper). The 17 research papers also encompass cross-cutting themes of connectivity (5 papers), behavior (4 papers), biodiversity (4 papers), anthropogenic impact (3 papers) and the epipelagic zone as nursery habitat for both shallow- and deep-living fish taxa (2 papers). Eight papers examine the patterns of processes of diel vertical migration among various taxa, all of which concern connectivity, carbon flux, and the active engine of the biological pump.

The Topic Editors Tracey Sutton, Heather Bracken-Grissom, Jose Lopez, Michael Vecchione and Marsh Youngbluth declare that they are affiliated with the DEEPEND consortium on the biotic composition, distribution, and abundance of deep-pelagic (0-1500 m depth) assemblages.

Image: DEEPEND/Danté Fenolio


Keywords: epipelagic, mesopelagic, bathypelagic, connectivity, biodiversity


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