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University of Idaho Profesor Says Gulf Coast Wetlands Won't Recover for Decades

by Kim Fields
Posted on June 15, 2010 at 4:40 PM
Updated Wednesday, Jun 16 at 8:11 AM

BOISE -- A professor from the University of Idaho is one of the hundreds of experts around the nation who have been called upon to study the Gulf oil spill.

Dr. Peter Goodwin is the director of the Center for Ecohydraulic Research. He just got back from Louisiana and says the long-term consequences of the spill are still too difficult to tell.

Goodwin says that's because of the uncertainty of just how much oil is leaking from the ruptured pipe.

He says the spill in the Gulf is already much more large scale than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska 21 years ago. Some estimates say it is three times the size of the Exxon spill, which spilled 11 million gallons of oil.

Goodwin's area of expertise is determining what impact the spill will have on Louisiana's delicate wetlands. He says when the wetlands are gone Louisiana becomes much more vulnerable to hurricanes. And this year's hurricane season is predicted to be on the same scale as Katrina and Rita. Another concern is the coastal wildlife.

“Many of the species in the Exxon Valdez, I believe only seven of the 31 species that were tracked have actually recovered to pre-Exxon Valdez levels. So what we're probably talking about is decades in many areas," said Goodwin.

Goodwin says the oil that's in the Gulf right now is going to move around for months. He says more than 8,000 miles of shoreline could be affected.

Goodwin will make another trip to Louisiana in September. In the meantime, he'll share what he's learned with his colleagues at the University of Idaho.

Goodwin says if the oil doesn't sink into the soils of the wetlands, there is a chance the roots will stay alive and there will be vegetation again next year.