Microbial Community Response to an Oil Spill
This activity guides the analysis of a published scientific figure from a study that monitored the microbial community before, during, and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling unit exploded, releasing up to 70,000 barrels of oil and natural gas per day into the Gulf of Mexico until June 4. Oil and natural gas are primarily composed of hydrocarbons, which stimulate the growth of naturally occuring bacteria. These bacteria degrade the hydrocarbons into smaller molecules, which, in turn, feed other microbe communities. The figure shows the different bacterial taxa that were enriched by the oil spill over time. The green dashed line indicates when the oil leak was partially reduced, and the blue line indicates when the leak was completely stopped.
The “Educator Materials” document includes a captioned figure, background information, graph interpretation, and discussion questions. The “Student Handout” includes a captioned figure and background information.
Student Learning Targets
- Analyze and interpret data from a scientific figure.
- Describe how an environmental change can affect the structure of an ecological community over time.
biodegradation, community structure, hydrocarbon, marine biology, oceanography, plume, pollution, succession, timeline
Dubinsky, Eric A., Mark E. Conrad, Romy Chakraborty, Markus Bill, Sharon E. Borglin, James T. Hollibaugh, Olivia U. Mason, et al. “Succession of hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.” Environmental Science and Technology 47, 19 (2013): 10860–10867. https://doi.org/10.1021/es401676y.
Accessibility Level (WCAG compliance)
HS-LS2-2, HS-EES3-6; SEP2, SEP4, SEP5
ENE-4.B, ENE-4.C; SP1, SP4
Learning Objectives & Practices: STB-3.B, SP2, SP7
Math.S-ID.3, Math.S-IC.1; MP2, MP5
CC5; DP2, DP3