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Milestones: Auke Bay Laboratories (ABL)

Jeep Rice Retires with 41 Years of Federal Service

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Oct-Nov-Dec 2012
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jeep rice
Jeep Rice.

Dr. Stanley Rice, known to all as “Jeep,” retired as Program Manager of Habitat and Marine Chemistry at the Center’s Auke Bay Laboratories on 5 November 2012.  During a federal career spanning more than 40 years, Jeep’s tireless efforts to understand the long-term fate and biological effects of oil in the marine environment led the way in positioning NOAA as the premier scientific voice in habitat impacts of oil. 

Jeep's many publications (more than150) have greatly added to our understanding of the long-term ecological implications of both oil spills and chronic oil pollution. The discovery of the extent to which very low concentrations (ppb) of oil in the environment could damage the productivity of marine organisms and compromise their habitats culminated, after a decade of further research, in a paradigm-shifting publication in Science (2003).

For 5 years following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, Jeep’s team traced persistent oil to the sediments of river mouths, shorelines, and estuaries. Using a combination of field work, hydrocarbon finger printing, and painstaking laboratory and field experiments, Jeep’s work established that concentrations of oil an order of magnitude below the then existing EPA standards had the ability to compromise survival, growth, and reproductive capacity in pink salmon. These findings published in the scientific literature were built upon by other scientists to extend to seabirds, marine mammals, and the intertidal biota, resulting in a major paradigm shift in the scientific view of oil spills and chronic pollution, disrupting the previous understanding that chronic low-level oil contamination following a spill posed no biological threats.

The finding that oil (once allowed to make landfall) could persist and cause environmental damage for decades was applied to minimize environmental damages during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Jeep was among the first scientists to be consulted by command after that spill.  His advice to focus efforts on preventing landfall helped command to decide to launch efforts on dispersants and booms, significantly limiting damage to the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coastline.

Beyond the arena of catastrophic oil spills, Jeep’s findings have been applied by scientists in the management of very low levels of hydrocarbon pollution and the protection of ecosystems in urban estuaries. For example, Jeep's team's findings led to more stringent water quality standards for hydrocarbons in fish spawning habitats. His findings also led NMFS investigators to focus on hydrocarbons as causative agents for declines in fish populations in Puget Sound, Washington, where prior investigations had discounted the possibility of hydrocarbons as causative agents. This work resulted in changing the basic EPA methods for establishing maximum permissible loading of hydrocarbons in the aquatic environment. The findings also had an impact on oil spill contingency planning where proactive measures such as double-hulled tankers and altered shipping routes have appeared in plans that once focused solely on cleanup technologies.

Jeep’s leadership and his habit of “speaking truth to power” will be missed, but he leaves behind a team of scientists who are capable of picking up where he left off.  His retirement leaves the AFSC and ABL with a legacy of science and administration of science of which anyone would be proud.

By Phil Mundy

 

 

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