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

A tale of two Gulf spills: A research consortium of 17 institutions from 5 countries studying the impacts of oil spills on the Gulf of Mexico.

The NET effect of dispersants — a critical review of testing and modelling of surface oil dispersion

  • Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Application of chemical dispersants or mechanical dispersion on surface oil is a trade-off between surface effects (impact of floating oil) and sub-surface effects (impact of suspended oil). Making an informed decision regarding such response, requires insight in the induced change in fate and transport of the oil. We aim to identify how natural, chemical and mechanical dispersion could be quantified in oil spill models. For each step in the dispersion process, we review available experimental data in order to identify overall trends and propose an algorithm or calculation method. Additionally, the conditions for successful mechanical and chemical dispersion are defined. Two commonly identified key parameters in surface oil dispersion are: oil properties (viscosity and presence of dispersants) and mixing energy (often wind speed). Strikingly, these parameters play a different role in several of the dispersion sub-processes. This may explain difficulties in simply relating overall dispersion effectiveness to the individual parameters.

Ref:Marieke Zeinstra-Helfrich, Wierd Koops, Albertinka J. Murk, The NET effect of dispersants — a critical review of testing and modelling of surface oil dispersion, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 26 September 2015, ISSN 0025-326X,

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