The Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of the Gulf Ecosystem

A tale of two Gulf spills: A research consortium of 19 institutions from 5 countries studying the impacts of oil spills on the Gulf of Mexico.

 

During the Deepwater Horizon blowout, chemical dispersants were injected in the deep ocean for the first time in history. Typically used at the surface, dispersants reduce the oil droplet size resulting in faster biodegradation by marine microorganisms. But how these dispersants interacted with the oil billowing from the well head is the main question of Task 1. The goals of near- and far-field modeling are to

(1) generate an integrated fundamental model that can be applied to predict oil behavior during marine blowouts

(2) quantify the effect of dispersant injection, and

(3) identify ecosystem components interacting with sub-surface and sedimented oil.

Task 1 operates through collaboration with the University of Miami, Texas A&M University, the University of Western Austraila, and NHL University of Applied Science in the Netherlands.

Research Summary

During the Deepwater Horizon blowout, chemical dispersants were injected in the deep ocean for the first time in history. Typically used at the surface, dispersants reduce the oil droplet size resulting in faster biodegradation by marine microorganisms. But how these dispersants interacted with the oil billowing from the well head is the main question of Task 1. The goals of near- and far-field modeling is to (1) generate an integrated fundamental model that can be applied to predict oil behavior during marine blowouts, (2) quantify the effect of dispersant injection, and (3) identify ecosystem components interacting with sub-surface and sedimented oil. Near-field dispersion refers to a mixture of oil and gas hydrates ascending soon after exiting the well. As this plume ascends in the water column the gasses dissolve and oil droplets remain. Tracking of these droplets is refered to as far-field modeling. Task 1 operates through collaboration with the University of Miami, Texas A&M University, the University of Western Austraila, and NHL University of Applied Science in the Netherlands.

Research Objectives

The goal of these near-field plume models is to accurately and efficiently predict the partitioning of oil and gas throughout the water column and at the sea surface. To achieve this goal the models must account for the currents, density stratification of the ambient seawater, supplied by the C-IMAGE physical models, and the partitioning and dissolution of oil and gas into the water column.

For this study we use the validated near-field Stratified Multiphase Integral Plume (SMIP) model (Socolofsky and Bhaumik, 2008; Socolofsky et al., 2011) that incorporates refined algorithms for stratification and cross-flow and predicts the partitioning of oil and gas throughout the water column and in the surface. More accurate multi-phase plume modeling requires improved knowledge of the initial conditions of the plume, gas-oil peeling processes, bubble/droplet size distribution, hydrate formation, and dissolution process for the bubbles and droplets. The accompanying plan to conduct high-pressure experimental research will provide insight on these important initial conditions. There is a critical need to enhance deep-water blowout models with stratification algorithms similar to the double-plume models developed by Crounse et al., (2007) and Socolofsky et al., (2008). Validation of the model focus on hindcasting the DWH release. The models are also used to forecast near-field plume behavior and the partitioning and water column distribution of oil and gas for a deep-water blowout scenario with varying compositions of petroleum.

To improve far-field model estimates of the chemical evolution, fate and transport of oil and gas from deep blowouts it is necessary to simultaneously account for key processes regulating:
(1) the formation of the rising plume in the near-field;
(2) the composition, distribution and fate of the sub-surface oil;
(3) and the dispersion, degradation and ecotoxicology of surface oil in the far-field.

The proposed suite of C-IMAGE nested circulation models in a single application is critical to identify pathways of the oil mixture from the deeper part of the GOM to the shallow coastal areas. This requires state-of-the-art computing techniques and the use of integrated oil spill application recently developed in the Connectivity Modeling System (CMS). The model represents discharged oil as droplets of varying sizes with distinct chemical fractions. In three-dimensional form, it predicted the dispersion and fate of the DWH releases over a few months, based on a preliminary assumed quantitative understanding of oil dispersion and degradation within 3D currents and mixing parameters.

Current Projects

Texas A&M Oil Spill Calculator – Socolofsky – Texas A&M University

The Texas A&M Oil Spill Calculator (TAMOC) models near-field plumes and computes transport of single droplets and simulates the development of subsurface intrusions and estimation of initial droplet size distributions in the near-field. 

Connectivity Modeling System – Paris – University of Miami

The Connectivity Modeling System (CMS) models the transport of droplets in the far-field using Lagrangian models to identify important parameters and processes involved in dispersion and fate. Incorporates biodegradation, droplet dynamics, MOSSFA formation, and icthyoplankton impacts.and plume experiments from task 2. 

Deepwater Horizon Hindcast Model – Coupled Near- and Far-field Components

Compiling surface distributions, sediment contamination, droplet size distribution, and ocean circulation creates a 4-dimensional visualization of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Outputs of the model include estimate subsurface distribution, PAH concentrations in water and sediments, and mass balance. Incorporates biodegradation, droplet dynamics, MOSSFA formation, icthyoplankton impacts, and Lagrangian dynamics from other C-IMAGE and GoMRI research projects.

Sapphire Autoclave – Aman – University of West Australia

High-pressure sapphire autoclave measures oil-in-water droplet size distributions (DSD) with variable oil thermophysical properties, presence of dispersants, and variable mixing length scale.

Hydrate film growth and oil viscosity are analyzed with the Sapphire Autoclave testing variable oil types and the addition of ionic and non-ionic dispersants.

Oil Entrainment Properties – Zienstra-Helfrich – NHL University of Applied Sciences

Entrainment of oil and the breakup into droplets are separate processes governed by separate parameters that can and should be included in spilled oil fate modelling.

 

Spill Plume Modeling News & Products

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Simulating the effects of droplet size, biodegradation and flow rate on the subsea evolution of deep plumes from the Macondo blowout

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Podcasts from The Loop

The Loop is a series of podcasts which take an in depth look at C-IMAGE research. Partnering with Mind Open Media reporters Ari Daniel Shapiro and David Levin, our researchers share the importance of their studies and how they help our understanding of oil spills. David and Ari have produced eight podcasts and have more in the queue. The podcasts are linked below. Plug in and learn about our research!

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