Science of the Oil Spill: Our Reporting Team Tackles Five Key Issues

Aerial view of oil being burned from the Deepwater Horizon/BP accident.

John Kepsimelis / U.S Coast Guard

Editor's note: This article was previously published under the headline "Five Questions on the Oil Spill."

Sizing up the weeks-long spill in the Gulf of Mexico and its impacts is proving a challenge for marine and coastal scientists. The source is beneath 1600 meters of seawater, the winds and currents spreading the oil can be capricious, and the marine life in the oil's path is spread over hundreds of square kilometers, from the sea floor to the surface. Commercial fisheries have already been affected, and fragile coastal marshlands are at risk. Just monitoring all these ecosystems is the first challenge; gauging the toll taken and sounding the all clear will come later. Here are five of the key questions that scientists will be trying to answer over the coming months and years.

  1. What's happening with the oil? [UPDATE 5/21 2:33PM]
  2. What's happening to life on the sea floor?
  3. What's happening to marine life? [UPDATE 5/20 4:35PM]
  4. What's happening to coastal ecosystems?
  5. What's happening to fisheries?

We will be updating these pages regularly, and invite our readers to help us add new information. Please post comments below each question with your insights on the key scientific issues, information on new studies you or your colleagues are undertaking, new results, new questions--anything pertinent to the science of the spill.

Question 1: What's happening with the oil?

This online feature is an expanded version of an article that appeared in Science's print edition this week.