The Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, six years after the Macondo oil well blowout

Samantha B. Joye, Annalisa Bracco, Tamay M. Özgökmen, Jeffrey P. Chanton, Martin Grosell, Ian R. MacDonald, Erik E. Cordes, Joseph P. Montoya, Uta Passow

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


The Gulf of Mexico ecosystem is a hotspot for biological diversity and supports a number of industries, from tourism to fishery production to oil and gas exploration, that serve as the economic backbone of Gulf coast states. The Gulf is a natural hydrocarbon basin, rich with stores of oil and gas that lie in reservoirs deep beneath the seafloor. The natural seepage of hydrocarbons across the Gulf system is extensive and, thus, the system's biological components experience ephemeral, if not, frequent, hydrocarbon exposure. In contrast to natural seepage, which is diffuse and variable over space and time, the 2010 Macondo oil well blowout, represented an intense, focused hydrocarbon infusion to the Gulf's deepwaters. The Macondo blowout drove rapid shifts in microbial populations and activity, revealed unexpected phenomena, such as deepwater hydrocarbon plumes and marine "oil snow" sedimentation, and impacted the Gulf's pelagic and benthic ecosystems. Understanding the distribution and fate of Macondo oil was limited to some degree by an insufficient ability to predict the physical movement of water in the Gulf. In other words, the available physical oceanographic models lacked critical components. In the past six years, much has been learned about the physical oceanography of the Gulf, providing transformative knowledge that will improve the ability to predict the movement of water and the hydrocarbons they carry in future blowout scenarios. Similarly, much has been learned about the processing and fate of Macondo hydrocarbons. Here, we provide an overview of the distribution, fate and impacts of Macondo hydrocarbons and offer suggestions for future research to push the field of oil spill response research forward.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-19
Number of pages16
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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