The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife held a hearing on June 15 to consider the state of environmental science in the Gulf of Mexico. The Subcommittee heard testimony about scientific needs related to the BP oil spill response from representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Smithsonian Institution, and non-federal scientists.

Among the first panel of witnesses was Dr. Jonathan Coddington, associate director of research and collections at the National Museum of Natural History. Dr. Coddington testified about the value of biological collections in assessing the impacts of the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. Since 1979, the Smithsonian has curated biological specimens collected by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) during environmental assessments of the outer continental shelf. These assessments of the biological, sedimentary, physio-chemical, and oceanographic conditions of U.S. waters serve as pre-drilling environmental baselines.

In the wake of the BP spill, the more than 350,000 lots of biological specimens that are held by the National Museum of Natural History are invaluable. “Regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, knowing what the conditions were like before the event is essential,” wrote Coddington in his testimony. “However, approximately one third of MMS collections deposited at the Smithsonian need further work in order to optimally support research related to the oil spill.” This work ranges from identification of species to digitization of specimens. Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) asked Dr. Coddington how much it would cost to complete this work. Coddington estimated that it would cost $9 million over two years to make all relevant collections publically available.

Click here to read Dr. Coddington’s written testimony