For those die-hard lab blog readers out there, you may have noticed that I have bounced around quite a bit in my research focus. I’ve dabbled in marine natural products with the Smithsonian, spent a summer investigating organic atmospheric aerosol, and now for my senior project, I’m hunting for and characterizing the polar components of oil and dispersants in marine sediments and sand patties. I had no idea that there was any overlap between atmospheric chemistry and the oil spill, my two most recent ventures—and then I went to an amazing talk given by Tom Ryerson, a researcher at NOAA’s Aeronomy Laboratory in Colorado.
Ryerson presented how he and his team measured the spill related compounds evaporating into the atmosphere following the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in 2010. They did this with some instrumentation fitted onto an aircraft and a simple flight pattern over the spill site. Combining these atmospheric measurements with the composition of the oil and gas flowing from the burst wellhead 1500 m beneath the surface, Ryerson was actually able to calculate the flow rate from the wellhead. FROM THE AIR. As if this wasn’t amazing enough, Ryerson and his team actually repeated the flight pattern and measurements over the leaking Elgin oil and gas platform in the North Sea last spring. The Elgin platform, at the time of its leak, provided 9% of the UK’s natural gas, and Ryerson’s efforts were pivotal in the successful response effort to cap the leak. Ryerson and his team have shown that offshore blowouts can be monitored safely and quickly from the air, and undoubtedly, their work will have a major impact for first responders to offshore blowouts.
I had the chance to speak with Dr. Ryerson after his presentation and saluted him on his amazing research. In our conversation, it quickly became apparent that atmospheric chemistry, in his mind, is the final frontier in environmental chemistry. So maybe, just maybe, the White Lab will revisit the aerosol project Alyssa, Zach, and I began a few years ago.