UI professor, students to study oil leak impact on gulf plant life - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

UI professor, students to study oil leak impact on gulf plant life

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) - An-award winning University of Iowa professor and two students are heading to the Gulf Coast, to try and curb the damage being done by the gushing oil well. Dr. Jerry Schnoor recently won the Clark Award for his research on sustainable water use, but now, he hopes to learn how plant life in the Gulf is being impacted.

Dr. Schnoor and the students will bring back gulf marsh plants, to see how much oil they can withstand,and evaluate the role they'll play in the cleanup effort, which continues along hundreds of miles of beaches and saltwater marshes.

"That's where all of the fish and shrimp and seafood that you eat come from; they're all born and raised in the salt marshes," said UI graduate student Aaron Gwinnup, in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. He'll be joined by another student and Dr. Schnoor, who will gather samples of coastal plant life and bring it back for analysis.

"The issue is, how low do the oil levels have to be until you can re-establish a new marsh?" Schnoor asked. He will experiment with different species, to learn not only how much oil they can withstand, but how much they can soak up. Like Iowa's native marsh and prairie grasses, Schnoor said Gulf marsh plants act as natural filters.

"You can add nutrients to try to enhance the biodegradation of the microbes, the bacteria, in the marsh sediments, to degrade the oil before you replant."

"The plants and the microbes that live in the soil with them, they kind of have a symbiotic relationship," explained Gwinnup, who sees this as a valuable learning experience, and a chance to be ready for future disasters.

"If this should happen again, maybe we can be a little more prepared and make the impact as little as possible."

Online Reporter - Brady Smith

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