CARTHE Experiment to Study Oil Spills Underway

Researchers from the UM Rosenstiel School are in Florida’s Panhandle this week and next to study how oil and other pollutants migrate in the Gulf of Mexico. Information collected by scientists from the CARTHE experiments will be used to model the transport of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, in the event of a future spill.

For the three-week experiment, begun last week and called SCOPE – Surfzone Coastal Oil Pathways Experiment – scientists are deploying GPS-equipped drifters and other advanced instruments to track ocean currents off Ft. Walton Beach and better understand how oil may move onshore in the event of a future spill.

“In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill it became clear that understanding the ocean currents in the surf zone is vital to improve our understanding and prediction of oil spills,” said UM professor Tamay Özgökmen, director of the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbons in the Environment (CARTHE). “There are catastrophic socio-economic impacts when oil spills reach our beaches.”

UM’s Ad Reniers and his colleague Jamie MacMahan, from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., are deploying a variety of instruments, including 200 GPS-equipped drifters, unmanned aerial vehicles, and pressure and dye sensors at and below the surface at varying depths, to measure the movement of coastal ocean currents and determine how they carry oil, fish larvae, or toxins close to shore.


“This study will collect important data necessary to understand the ocean currents in the near-shore marine environment,” said Reniers, associate professor of applied marine physics at the Rosenstiel School and lead SCOPE investigator. “The information collected will be used to develop computer models of the coastal zone to improve our scientific understanding of this region in the event of a future oil spill, as well as to better understand how larvae or water pollutants travel close to shore.”

The research was made possible by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), a 10-year, $500 million independent research program established by an agreement between BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon accident and the potential associated impact of this and similar incidents on the environment and public health.

SCOPE is the second large experiment conducted by CARTHE, bringing together a wide range of scientific experts and experiments to study oil spills.

The SCOPE Experiment is a project of the UM-based CARTHE. The CARTHE program includes 26 principal investigators from 12 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 or on Facebook at

Drift Away with Bob!

Meet Bob the Drifter, a specially designed tool used by CARTHE scientists to track where ocean currents take spilled pollutants, people, and larval lobster at sea. In this new Waterlust video, Bob is equipped with a GPS unit as he drifts along Gulf of Mexico ocean currents for CARTHE scientists to track where he goes and how fast he is moving.

Bob is one of the many important devises that collect data for CARTHE, the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment.  CARTHE studies ocean currents in the Gulf of Mexico to help predict where oil or other toxins may go in the event of a future spill.  This same data can be used to predict the location of people lost at sea and how far larval animals may travel before they settle.

The CARTHE team is based at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science and is funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI).  It is comprised of over forty scientific researchers, postdocs, students and administrative staff from fourteen universities and research institutions.

The key to solving tomorrow’s spill-related problems lies in the research CARTHE is conducting today.  To learn more about CARTHE research, visit

— RSMAS Communications Team

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Check out CARTHE’s new web site at

Carthe Homepage






The Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE), part of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative based at RSMAS just launched its revamped web site. The updated web portal is devoted to interactive information and science education, allowing online users to track the progress of the groundbreaking oceanographic experiments taking place.

“Our goal is to provide visitors with an enhanced interactive experience when they are looking for information about our program and our research on ocean currents – whether they are a scientist, student, member of the press or member of the general public,” said Dr. Tamay Ozgokmen, CARTHE Director and Rosenstiel School Professor. “We are doing significant, innovative research with investigators from 14 institutions through CARTHE, and are excited to share our findings with the public.”

The CARTHE site’s new, streamlined design is clutter free, and was created in collaboration with Professor Kim Grinfeder and his team from the UM School of Communication. It offers improved navigation, links to social media resources, videos of experts, computer animations, and prominently features major news items on the home page, as well as an engaging overview video that serves as a welcome to the site.




The Pillars of Hercules

By Nathan Laxague

It wasn’t a large blowout.  Or a particularly messy one.  Or one that required multiple plugging attempts in deep water.  No- the blowout of the well worked by Hercules 265 was thankfully benign in comparison to numerous disasters in recent memory.  While attempts to quantify the environmental damage are underway, initial observations show a relative lack of the damaging oil responsible for mucking up the fragile Gulf coast. hercules rig photo by BSEE

Photo by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

CARTHE, the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment, works to predict where oil might go in the event of an oil/gas spill, like this one.  Our involvement in the studying of the immediate aftermath of this incident began as a string of brief, terse e-mails and texts on Wednesday, July 24th.  Experiments were moved.  Meetings were bumped.  The Consortium would be involved in an observational project.  The exact details of that involvement (formulated over meetings and conference calls) were told to us as follows: two to three PhD students would prepare ~20 surface drifters (each equipped with the now-standard SPOT GPS device and extended battery pack), drive to Cocodrie, Louisiana, and board the R/V Acadiana for a fast-response deployment.  The Acadiana is owned and operated by LUMCON (Louisiana Universities Marine CONsortium).

nathan and conor loading drifters in vanThe journey went as any such road trip should- 1000 miles of flat, open road and more country stations than any reasonable person could handle (excluding, perhaps, my partner-in-science, fellow student Conor Smith).  Our 12:00 AM (Friday night/Saturday morning) arrival was followed by a 12:30 AM loading of the boat and a 1:30 AM bedtime.  We squeezed in a bit of a nap, were on the dock at 4:45 AM, and were creeping through the bayou before we saw the sun.  The Acadiana was advertised by Max, the vessel’s Captain, as a ship that rode the waves like a cork.  It’s difficult for me to describe my body’s reaction to those cork-like motions, but suffice it to say that never have two-foot waves seemed so fierce (as far as the tasks of reading or keeping a meal down are concerned).

Shall I get on with it, then?

The 12-hour transit was filled by a four-hour drifter deployment operation, during which our 21 floating detectives were distributed about the Hercules 265 rig.  Much like during our 2012 GLAD experiment, the drifters were organized into an arrangement of triplets (in this case, triads of 200m-spaced drifters encircling Hercules at a range of 8 km).  This method marries the traditional dispersion experiment with the practical, incident-response targeted drifter release.  The upside of this is a data set from which to glean sets of information satisfying multiple ends.  We look to extract both dispersion statistics (a measure of how water- or oil- spreads out) and information about the behavior of the Gulf in the immediate spatial and temporal vicinity of a rig incident (the latter being something that GLAD, two years removed from Deepwater Horizon, lacked).

It is a bit too early to comment on the data itself.  But as the SPOTs tick closer and closer to their demises, it is our hope that they will paint for us a picture of upper-ocean transport that is both scientifically rich and immediately practical.

carthe hercules v4 from CARTHE on Vimeo.

CARTHE scientists aboard the R/V Acadiana (grey line) released 21 floating GPS drifters (small black dots) around the Hercules rig (green diamond) in order to track where oil or gas might go if there was anything released from the well.  The circular cross indicates the center of mass of the drifters, while the orange area in the animation is all the potentially impacted areas.  Scientists will track many of these drifters for the next month.   (Movie-image credit: Edward Ryan (University of Miami and CARTHE))