Professor Comments on Oil Spill

College of Charleston professor and director of Grice Marine Lab Lou Burnett has been closely following the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast and is one of the College’s top experts on the subject. Last week, he attended the four-hour hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee on May 18.

“There was a great deal of tension in the air, in my opinion,” Burnett says. “There was significant concern about the spill finding its way into the Loop Current and what would happen if oil continues to spill  through August and September, the height of hurricane season. The panelists tried to answer the questions as specifically as possible, but ultimately, there is still much unknown about the spill.”

Burnett’s main concern from the beginning has been with the effects of the oil on the extensive marsh ecosystems. Oil penetrating into the marshes will effectively kill the marshes and the organisms living there.

Burnett says, “Imagine this kind of oil permeating Charleston Harbor and moving up the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. Birds, turtles, and mammals will definitely be affected, but all of the plankton (both plant and animal plankton) are likely to be killed. Virtually all other parts of the ecosystem depend on plankton at the base of the food chain and plant plankton (phytoplankton) are responsible in large measure for oxygenating the water and removing carbon dioxide. Without them the water will become oxygen depleted and more acidic.”

Lou Burnett can be reached at or 843.953.9170 (office) or 843.762.8755 (lab).

Scott Harris and Jack DiTullio are experts on ocean circulation. Scott can be reached at or 843.953.0864 and Jack can be reached at or 843.953.9196.

Mitchell Colgan can provide expert commentary on the geology aspect and environmental change and can be reached at or 843.953.7171.