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USC grads helping with Gulf oil spill

University of South Carolina alumni from the College of Arts and Sciences are putting their expertise to work in the Gulf, where they are involved in everything from data collection and assessment of conditions to studying the impact of the oil spill on marine life. Here is a sampling:

Jacqueline Michel is the president of Research Planning Inc. in Columbia. She earned her B.S. in geology in 1974, her master’s in 1976 and her Ph.D. in 1980, all from USC.

She is the Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team (SCAT) coordinator for Louisiana and has been working on the spill since April 28 as part of the NOAA team of scientific support coordinators. Most of her work involves managing the collection of data on shoreline oiling conditions and making the cleanup recommendations. She is also working on issues such as the barrier island berm (which she recommended against), protection strategies, assessment of submerged oil, issues with cleanup of marshes, development of new approaches for marsh cleanup, and evaluation of new technologies. She rotates into Louisiana for about 20 days and then returns every two weeks.

“It is very hectic every day, between meetings, dealing with many requests for information, and generating the data,” Michel said. “The latest flurry of activity was the request for our shoreline oiling data to be produced by noon each day so it can be on the president’s desk at 5 a.m. the following day. The president sees the data and maps we generate every day on the miles of shoreline oiling and the status of the cleanup.”

She is hopeful about the future.

“The current data indicates that the spilled oil is highly biodegradable, which is good for the recovery of shoreline habitats. So far, 260 miles of shoreline in Louisiana has been oiled, out of about 7,000 miles of intertidal habitat. I am amazed that more shoreline has not been oiled. Actually the combined effects of subsurface recovery, skimming, burning, dispersant application, and natural weathering have really reduced the overall impact to shoreline resources. What we don’t know yet are the impacts to the water column resources. But there is a very coordinated effort for this. There is lots to learn. My experience in many spills in the Gulf is that everyone will be surprised at how quickly some of the shoreline habitats will recover. We always fear for the worst, but reality is not so bad.”

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