NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution

How Should We Talk About Science During Oil Spills?


This is a guest post from graduate students at the University of Washington.

Where do you go to get reliable information about things that matter to you?

Do you send news to friends and family using Facebook or Twitter?

Are you interested in learning more about oil spills in your area?

These are a few of the questions our team [leaves this page] of three graduate students at the University of Washington are interested in answering for our community partner, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R). We want to know, how can governmental organizations like the Office of Response and Restoration leverage social media to communicate science better during oil spills? Our project, which OR&R is sponsoring, is part of an Environmental Management Certificate Program.

The project is officially known by the title, “Using Social Media to Communicate Science and Exploring the Role of Information During Environmental Disasters.” It focuses on oil spills and ongoing environmental problems like oceanic debris. We have been studying the role social media plays in informing the public about environmental disasters such as oil spills, both large and small. With our recommendations, OR&R hopes to engage more effectively with the public and expand their use of social media tools, especially during emergencies and disasters.

Grad students asking Doug Helton questions in the OR&R "War Room."

OR&R's Doug Helton answers our team's questions about responding to oil spills. Credit: NOAA.

We have just passed the halfway mark and have learned so much already. In addition to interviewing members of the OR&R team, we have researched how they have used social media tools in the past, read academic literature on how to effectively communicate scientific information, and examined current trends in social media communications.

This research will inform a strategy for effectively using common digital tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, mobile applications, and YouTube, to communicate about oil spills. We have also investigated cutting-edge technologies for tracking how information is spread and how to engage new volunteers successfully during disaster response efforts.

The project will wrap up in March, and we will present our final report and list of recommendations to the Office and Response and Restoration. NOAA has a long history of partnerships with the University of Washington, and our final report will include ways for NOAA to continue to provide opportunities to students while also adding value to the work carried out at the agency.

You can read our proposed list of deliverables on our blog [leaves this blog], where we will continue to update our progress on the project. We are thrilled to have this opportunity and would love to hear about how you use social media during disasters. Feel free to use the comments here to let us know.

We look forward to hearing your feedback,
Jeremy, Libby, Elspeth, and Bob

Jeremy, Libby, and Elspeth are graduate students at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs and the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs. They are supported by their mentor and adviser on the project, Dr. Robert Pavia [leaves this page], Affiliate Associate Professor at the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs. This project is a community partnership between the University of Washington (Seattle, Wash.) and NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration.

Author: Office of Response and Restoration

The National Ocean Service's Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) provides scientific solutions for marine pollution. A part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), OR&R is a center of expertise in preparing for, evaluating, and responding to threats to coastal environments. These threats could be oil and chemical spills, releases from hazardous waste sites, or marine debris.

6 thoughts on “How Should We Talk About Science During Oil Spills?

  1. Keep in mind that the audience for oil spill advisories can be very different from a “normal” US continental audience in general, AND that the importance of a spill in many coastal areas under US “management” may be much greater than in other areas. For example, the US territories, such as Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Micronesian areas with a special relationship with the USA.

  2. Great job Libby. I am very proud of you. UJ

  3. It’s also important to make sure our citizens are prepared to understand information about oil spills when they happen! We recently worked with the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and the NOAA B-WET program to create the “Olympic Coast Oil Spill Simulation: An Introduction to Geospatial Analysis”, for high school students to learn about Oil Spills while learning how to use GIS tools. Here’s the link, hope it’s useful and please share!

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