The largest research expedition of its kind near the site of Deepwater Horizon incident

July 23, 2012

Scientists have embarked on a 3-week expedition aboard the R/V Walton Smith in the Gulf of Mexico to understand how surface ocean currents near the site of the Deepwater Horizon influence the fate and transport of oil/dispersants, like those from the 2010 spill. In other words, they will investigate where pollutants travel, and how fast they get there. This experiment is an essential step in understanding the elusive surface ocean currents that transport pollutants.

This unprecedented expedition marks the first time that a study of this will map the relatively unknown found in the GoM. In the past, only a handful of monitoring devices were set adrift along the currents. This summer, more than 300 custom-made buoys known as "drifters" will be released during the Grand Lagrangian Deployment (GLAD.)

"In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill it became clear that understanding the various scales of oceanic currents and flows lies at the very of being able to improve our understanding and prediction of ," explained Dr. Tamay Ӧzgökmen, University of Miami (UM) Professor and Director of the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbons in the Environment (CARTHE), a project funded by the Research Initiative (GoMRI). "In this case we are like detectives uncovering clues and following the 'trail' to find out exactly where pollutants might go."

UM Professor and Chief Scientist Brian Haus will oversee the release of drifters from UM's 96-foot catamaran, the R/V Walton Smith. "The drifters will collect a wealth of oceanic information that will be plugged into predictive models to help us better understand the role of near- flows in spreading and dispersing materials in the marine environment," said Haus.

The GLAD experiment is one of two inaugural CARTHE research expeditions this summer. Haus leads the drifters' deployment, while Dr. Brad Rosenheim at Tulane University led sediment and water sampling along select Florida Panhandle beaches aboard the RV Pelican earlier this summer. Data from Rosenheim's experiment will help scientists confirm the presence or absence of oil and the type of weathering that has occurred to the oil in both the sedimentary and shore-line water environment.

For a few months following the GLAD experiment, the drifters will continue to drift along the Gulf of Mexico currents. All CARTHE data derived during the project will be shared with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to improve their search and rescue operations.

"This joint research operation between the USCG and CARTHE combines our expertise and resources – it is a partnership that can truly save lives," said Art Allen, a physical oceanographer with the USCG Office of Search and Rescue in Washington, D.C. Allen worked with CARTHE researcher Bruce Dr. Lipphardt from the University of Delaware to release five drifters by aircraft. The drifters deployed by USCG aircraft in advance of the GLAD experiment helped CARTHE researchers to identify appropriate locations for the larger deployment.

CARTHE's field work at sea, combined with laboratory experiments and the development of interconnected modeling systems, will produce a comprehensive, four dimensional description of the oil/dispersant fate and transport in the GoM, as well as its impact on other coastal environments across all relevant time and space scales. "Our research goes well beyond the Deepwater Horizon incident," Ӧzgökmen said. "These experiments are complex and painstaking, but the results will be key to generating vast improvements in how and where emergency responders are deployed in the event of another oil spill or at-sea emergency."

Explore further: Study finds winds played important role in keeping oil away from S. Fla.

More information: The CARTHE program includes twenty-six principal investigators from twelve research institutions in eight states. Together these scientists are engaged in novel research through the development of a suite of integrated models and state-of-the-art computations that bridge the scale gap between existing models and natural processes. For more information about CARTHE, please visit www.carthe.org or like us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/carthe.gomri

Related Stories

Where has all the Gulf spill oil gone?

February 1, 2011

Many questions remain about the fate and environmental impact of the marine oil caused by the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform. A predictive model based on engineering ...

Recommended for you

Experiments call origin of Earth's iron into question

February 21, 2017

New research from The University of Texas at Austin reveals that the Earth's unique iron composition isn't linked to the formation of the planet's core, calling into question a prevailing theory about the events that shaped ...

Study finds 6,600 spills from fracking in just four states

February 21, 2017

Each year, 2 to 16 percent of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells spill hydrocarbons, chemical-laden water, hydraulic fracturing fluids and other substances, according to a new study.The analysis, which appears Feb. ...

Impacts of mass coral die-off on Indian Ocean reefs revealed

February 21, 2017

Warming seawaters, caused by climate change and extreme climatic events, threaten the stability of tropical coral reefs, with potentially devastating implications for many reef species and the human communities that reefs ...

Selenium deficiency promoted by climate change

February 20, 2017

Selenium is an essential micronutrient obtained from dietary sources such as cereals. The selenium content of foodstuffs largely depends on concentrations in the soil: previous studies have shown that low selenium concentrations ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.