The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a rapid response grant to scientist Eugene Turner of Louisiana State University and colleagues to measure the impacts of oil and dispersants on Gulf Coast salt marshes. The researchers will track short-term (at the current time, and again at three months) and longer-term (at 11 months) exposure to oil and dispersants. The coast of Louisiana is lined with extensive salt marshes, whose foundation is two species of Spartina grass.

In brackish marshes, Spartina patens is the dominant form. It”s locally known as wiregrass, marsh hay and paille a chat tigre (hair of the tiger). In more saline marshes closer to the Gulf of Mexico, Spartina alterniflora, also called smooth cordgrass and oyster grass, takes over. A tall form of this wavy grass grows on the streamside edge of the marsh; a shorter form grows behind it.

In their NSF study, the biologists will document changes in these critically important Spartina grasses, as well as in the growth of other salt marsh plants, and in marsh animals and microbes. Field investigators will collect samples three times at 35 to 50 sites and analyze the oil and dispersants after each expedition.

This NSF grant is one of many Gulf oil spill-related rapid response awards made by the federal agency. NSF”s response involves active research in social sciences, geosciences, computer simulation, engineering, biology and other fields. So far, the Foundation has made more than 60 awards totaling nearly $7 million.