Drifter Study Tracks Oil Near Damaged Platform and Mississippi Delta

Scientists gain a better understanding of how spilled oil moves in the Gulf of Mexico

Scientists at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science (UM) and their collaborators designed a unique experiment to study the movement of oil to better monitor and predict the transport path in the event of a future spill. The collaborative research team used a combination of tools which included satellites, drones and surface current drifters deployed around the former site of a leaking oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico which was damaged during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

The study took place around the platform site just offshore of the Mississippi Delta on April 18-20, 2017 and was a collaboration of two Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) funded projects: Influence of River Induced Fronts on Hydrocarbon Transport, led by Villy Kourafalou, professor of ocean sciences at UM’s Rosenstiel School, and the Consortium on Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE), led by UM professor of ocean sciences, Tamay Ozgokmen.

“This field study provided unprecedented details on how fronts created by the spreading of river waters in the Gulf of Mexico could influence the transport of hydrocarbons and their pathways toward the Gulf coasts.” said Kourafalou.

The scientists collected several types of measurements to track rapid changes of spreading oil, in tandem with changes in the spreading of Mississippi River fronts.  High resolution satellite data complemented boat surveys and floting drifter tracks. UM’s research vessel, F.G. Walton Smith, gathered radar measurments of currents and sections of temperature and salinity. CARTHE drifters, made of floating bamboo plates, and commercial drifters provided by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute (MET) were deployed and tracked in real time.

“A critical aspect for observing the hypothesis of river fronts acting like natural booms in the ocean, was not relying on a single tool, but rather on multiple platforms, such as drones, satellites, ship-based marine radar as well as drifters and subsurface measurements. This collaborative model was very effective and worked well in the field.” said Ozgokmen

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The research vessel F.G. Walton Smith and the vessel St. Anthony near and on surface oil, with the Mississippi River waters in the background (white line marks the river induced front); image credit: Oscar Garcia (WaterMapping LLCAnother key aspect of the study was the measurement and evaluation of oil thickness, which for the first time, is being included into high resolution model simulations of circulation and oil drift performed by UM and MET.

The findings document the close synergy between fronts induced by the Mississippi River and pathways the floating oil followed as it drifted on the ocean surface under the influence of several other factors such as winds, waves and regional circulation. The findings also add a missing component in the complex processes that moved the drifting oil during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill disaster, which occurred in close proximity to the Mississippi Delta. The updated oil drift algorithms which include oil thickness, are expected to greatly improve the ability to monitor and predict oil transport in the event of a future spill.

The field study was coordinated by Oscar Garcia of WaterMapping LLC, which also provided drone and small aircraft surveillance of fronts and oil spreading, as well as satellite data analysis, in collaboration with Chuanmin Hu of the Optical Oceanography Laboratory at the University of South Florida.

Video link: https://youtu.be/T6X2HAsYPu8

Trajectories of individual drifters after a few weeks of release, marking several potential pathways of oil toward the coastline or the Gulf interior; image credit: HeeSook Kang (UM/RSMAS).

Deployment of drifter in thin oil; image credit: Yannis Androulidakis (UM-Rosentiel School)

Outstanding Mentor & Student Award Winners

UM Rosenstiel Professor Roland Romeiser of the Department of Ocean Sciences is the winner of the 2017 Outstanding Mentor Award. This annual award is meant to recognize faculty and staff members who go above and beyond in fostering the professional and personal development of RSMAS graduate students. The award is based solely on student recommendations and nominations were evaluated by a committee made up of student representatives and the previous year’s recipient.

David Ortiz-Suslow (left) and 2017 Outstanding Mentor award recipient Roland Romeiser

According to Dave Ortiz-Suslow, chair of the student SLED committee that choose this year’s winner, “Dr. Romeiser is described as having a profound interest in the well-being of OCE graduate students. He is an excellent instructor, accomplished researcher, and outstanding mentor to many students, not only the ones he directly advises.”

The SLED committee also recognized Professor Elizabeth Babcock of the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology as this year’s Honorable Mention. Dr. Babcock is an excellent mentor who works ardently to encourage students’ professional development at and beyond RSMAS.

Student Awards

On Friday, April 28 an award ceremony was held honoring all UM Rosenstiel student accomplishments during the past year.

Spring 2017 Student Award Winners

Photos of the 2017 awards ceremony can be accessed here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/RosenstielSchool/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10154576154375949

Best Ph.D. Dissertation – F.G. Walton Smith Prize
Dr. Sarah Larson (MPO)

Best Student Publication – Millero Prize
Jara Schnyder (MGG)

Mary Roche Endowed Fellowship 
Mariana Bernardi-Bif (OCE)

Koczy Fellowship
Kevin Schauer (MBE)

Masters of Professional Science for Excellence in Ocean Stewardship
Ana Nader Valenci (MPS)
Jeff Palumbo (MPS)

Graduate Studies Service Award
Samantha Dowdell (MAF)
Meredith Jennings (MAC)
David Ortiz-Suslow (AMP)

Teaching Assistant Excellence Award
Zachary Daugherty (MES)
Sharmila Giri (MGG)
Jacob Jerome (MAF)

Career Development Fund
Ryan Kramer (MPO) and Eleanor Middlemas (MPO)
Michael Connelly (MBE)
Shane Hinton (MPS)
Amanda Mikalian (MPS)
Heather Sadusky (MPS)
Joletta Silva (MPS)
Jennifer Simms (MPS)

David Rowland Endowed Fellowship
Molly Amador (MBE)
Ana Palacio-Castro (MBF)

International Light Tackle Tournament Fund
Lela Schlenker (MBF)
Christina Pasparakis (MBE)
Heather Sadusky (MPS)

Best MPO Student Seminar Award
Ryan Kramer (MPO)

Best Abstract OCE Student Seminars
Romain Chaput (OCE)

OCE/AMP/MAC Best Student Seminar 

Dave Ortiz-Suslow (OCE)

 

Congratulations to our spring award winners and a special thanks to the Graduate Academic Committee for carefully reviewing and selecting the winners from a very strong group of nominations.

 

 

WHERE THERE IS SMOKE, THERE IS A DATA SET!

Paquita Zuidema

Paquita Zuidema

I’m excited to share that early LASIC measurements make clear that black carbon, the component of smoke that most strongly absorbs sunlight, is not only almost always present at the surface of Ascension Island, but at times in extremely high concentrations. During those times, the amount of smoke measured at Ascension is comparable to that measured directly downstream of wildfires in eastern Washington during ARM’s Biomass Burning Observation Project (BBOP) campaign.

In the time series of data analyzed from May 18 to November 30, smoke was detected at the first ARM Mobile Facility (AMF1) 94 percent of the time (using a 2 ng/m^3 threshold for the black carbon mass concentration). Several time periods were particularly smoky, and I have indicated the peak days on this image.

August was the month with the most smoke overall. What was truly unexpected is both 1) the peak numbers and 2) how commonly smoke was detected.

This is remarkable because the remote island is ~1,700 kilometers away from the source of the smoke. While southern Africa produces one-third of the planet’s carbon from fires, it has never been clear where the smoke is ultimately deposited. Similar trends are also evident in the absorption of red, green, and blue light, and in the number of particles that can nucleate cloud droplets.

Prior to LASIC, only one anecdotal aircraft profile, taken in the year 2000, hinted at the possibility that smoke could be present in the boundary layer.

A second look at the plotted data also shows that the black carbon is associated with relatively more cloud condensation nuclei early on in the summer, suggesting the composition of the smoke may change as the season evolves.

We are also fortunate that the AMF1 will be present on the island through October 31, 2017. This means the same instruments will sample two biomass burning seasons and allow us to see if the seasonal evolution is consistent.

These LASIC measurements represent the culmination of the efforts of many dedicated scientists, the technical crew and logistics managers—all of whom must negotiate the challenges of working in such a remote, isolated site.

This is an amazing data set.

Paquita Zuidema, a professor at the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and principal investigator for the Layered Atlantic Smoke Interactions with Clouds (LASIC) campaign, sent this update. 

Have you seen these drift cards?

Link

Scientists need your help in locating these small, eco-friendly wood cards, as part of a scientific experiment studying our local ocean currents.

The Biscayne Bay Drift Card Study (#BayDrift) is a collaborative community science project studying the current flows in Biscayne Bay to better understand how trash, sewage, oil, and harmful algae blooms get transported through South Florida waters by the wind and ocean currents. The effort is led by CARTHE (Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment) at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science.

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On Friday, December 9th, 280 small, eco-friendly wood cards were released into Biscayne Bay from 7 sites near downtown Miami by students from elementary to high school. The “drift cards” are brightly painted and float along the water’s surface, moved by the currents. Each card is coded so the project team can identify where it was deployed. By tracking the location where drift cards are released and found, we will learn how the currents distribute debris in Biscayne Bay.

The ultimate goal of the project is to advance our understanding of the area’s flow patternsMap, demonstrating how the ocean and bay currents transport various substances, but also to give students a hands-on STEAM activity (Science Technology Engineering Art Math). By hosting informative art events at Vizcaya, the Ramble at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden,
the Miami Science Barge, Nerd Nite Miami, the Key Biscayne Citizen Scientist Lecture, and Art Miami at Art Basel, as well as partnering with the youth poetry competition, Piano Slam, the backs of the drift cards are full of colorful images and inspiring poetry. Over 100 of the cards feature poems written by Piano Slam students inspired by the music Migrant Voyage by Manuel Valera and the migration of the ocean currents. The Bay Drift team hopes these eye catching additions will increase the chance of the cards being discovered and reported to the scientists.

Ten local organizations and seven schools participated in the December 9th Bay Drift release:

Organizations Schools
CARTHE at the University of Miami Lamar Louise Curry Middle School
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens Leisure City K-8 Center
Patricia & Philip Frost Museum of Science MAST Academy
Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves Mater Grove Academy
International Seakeepers Society Miami Northwestern Sr. High School
Key Biscayne Citizen Scientist Project Miami Springs Middle School
Miami Waterkeeper South Pointe Elementary School
Miami Science Barge
Piano Slam
Surfrider Foundation – Miami Chapter

This is the second #BayDrift release to date. The first took place on September 12, 2016 and 38 cards were reported, some very close to the release point and some nearly 70 miles aP1110178way. CARTHE scientists also released 15 biodegradable, custom-made, GPS-equipped drifters, providing detailed tracks of their journey. Preliminary analysis shows that most o
f the drifters remained inside the Bay for much longer than some predicted. This could have important implications for resource managers and decision makers in the event of some type of spill inside Biscayne Bay.

If you find a drift card, you are asked to report the location, data, time and a photo using #BayDrift or BayDriftMiami@gmail.com.  For more information on the Bay Drift study, visit www.CARTHE.org/BayDrift.

 

Drawn to the Sea

When Patrick Rynne contacted me on December 11th of last year, he explained that one of Waterlust’s initiatives was to showcase ocean scientists’ fundamental research interest and juxtapose the topic with their personal passions. He said “Obviously your name jumped up immediately. We’d love to produce a piece on you that contrasts your love of freediving with your research”. I was stoked about the idea of a snapshot documentary. I thought it could be a very artistic and powerful way to communicate science to the general public. Drawn to the Sea, the Waterlust 4-minute long video was launched 6 months later, coincidently during the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) which takes place only every four years, and I could not be happier with the outcome. It’s making was a very educational and amazing journey that I’d love to share.

The short video is composed of three major parts: the narration, the footage, and the soundtrack.

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The Narration

Being familiar with my research on fish larvae, Patrick had a story board already in mind, but he asked me of I would prefer to do the narration myself. As far as I remember, water has been my sanctuary and since I am very passionate about my work and about freediving, I found it easy and fun to write the narration below. The hardest part was to make the story short enough to be told in 3-4 minutes. It took however coaching from Patrick to speak into a microphone and many repetitions alone in my office late at night, with complete silence to get it right!

I have always been drawn to the sea. As a kid, I imagined the magic of the aquatic realm and found comfort underwater, mesmerized by the sounds of waves on the shoals and of my heart beat slowing down.

I am a biological oceanographer and a free diver. The ocean is where I push my mind and my body. I study the earliest days of a fishs life, what we call its larval stage. All fish, even those that grow to become very large, begin their lives very small. They may be tiny, but weve learned they are far from defenseless. They are strong and self sufficient having evolved to survive the pelagic life. Like the mantra ek ong kar, they and the ocean are one.

Despite this, they must still find their way through the oceans currents to a safe home like a coral reef where they can live and grow. At first we thought some would find a suitable habitat by chance, while others would be lost in the vast ocean. But today we are discovering a different story. Fish larvae are skilled swimmers and work together by using the light from the sun, and the smells and sounds in the ocean to find their way home. Even when young, they are connected to the sea in ways we dont entirely understand. When I observe them, I cannot help but think they know something about this blue world that I don’t.

Unlike a fish, I cannot extract oxygen from the water. But with long, deep inhales, I have learned to fill my lungs with air and slow the beat of my heart. Underwater, I find peace listening to my pulse slowing down and the sound of water over my body. I sink as pressure increases and I feel the water running faster over my face. I imagine that I am just like the tiny fish I study.

I explore the ocean with others like me, learning how to hold my breath and extend each visit below, just a little bit longer. But no matter how hard I train.my body will eventually force me to leave and return home to the air. Sometimes.in my dreams, I imagine I could hold my breath forever. I feel free. I wonder if I could, would I ever come back?

The Soundtrack

The music actually came after the narration. Despite personal preference for cello or violin, I had to agree that the piano soundtrack chosen by the Waterlust team was perfectly in tune with the narration. They have a lot of experience putting together amazing videos with beautiful soundtracks so it did not take long for them to find the perfect fit.

The Footage

Most of the footage was the result of a weekend session done with the Waterlust team in the Florida Springs. We had a great time freediving with them and their creative angles. Before that, I started organizing all my footage together and Patrick reviewed it and figured out what more was needed. The video needed field and lab footage of larval fish. I had some unique video of groups of damselfish larvae navigating taken by my husband Ricardo (RSMAS Alumni) and I on the Great Barrier Reef a few years ago. This study was recently published in PLoS ONE in December 2015. However, the field of larval fish behavior is relatively undocumented. So Patrick came to my lab and took some radical video of mahi-mahi larvae (generously donated by my UM Rosenstiel School colleagues, Daniel Bennetti and Martin Grosell) with a macro lens shooting at 240 frames per second!

The video also needed freediving clips from travel or from competitions. My first competition was at Deja Blue in October 2013 and my latest trip was at the Dean’s Blue Hole this April 2016, where I regularly service an acoustic pressure instrument that records sounds in a marine sinkhole. However, we still needed some footage of the meditation practice that is part of my freediving training, and of course of the fun part of the freediving with “others like me”. We asked Waterlust Ambassador, Ashley Baird, to join us on that endeavor. Ashley is from central Florida and also a competitive free diver and a great friend, so she was perfect for the role and she kindly accepted!

The best part of making the video was hanging out with the amazing Waterlust team,at Ginnie Springs around a fire camp and freediving under the moonlight. It was my first time visiting the Florida springs. I could not believe that after so many years in Miami, I had missed such natural beauty in Central Florida. The freshwater is so clear that you can see the refraction of the hammocks on the Snell’s window from the bottom of the sink holes.

I hope you enjoy the video and that it will inspire more documentaries of our scientific research at RSMAS and of our passion for the ocean.

 

Claire Paris, Professor – Department of Ocean Sciences, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

Claire Paris-Limouzy leads the RSMAS Physical-Biological Interactions Lab and is a champion free-diver.

 

 

Oil Spill Science

DWH_OILTwo large-scale oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico over the past four decades—the 1979 Ixtoc I spill off the coast of Carmen, Mexico that released 3.5 million barrels of crude oil, and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout off Louisiana that released 3.19 million barrels into the Gulf—have resulted in scientists coming together to gather data needed to understand the fate of oil, its disturbance to the ecosystem, and impacts on humans. One of the largest drivers of research efforts surrounding the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident is the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI).

GoMRI-funded research has identified gaps in our understanding, which is leading to new research and insights that will inform society’s response to future oil spills through improved mitigation efforts, refined detection of oil and gas in the environment, more robust spill simulation models, and novel technologies.

As we celebrate oceans this week as part of #WorldOceansDay,  we reflect on the progress GOMRI has made in advancing oil spill research, and subsequently our ability to deal with the ever-present threat of oil spills. Due to the groundbreaking research GOMRI has sponsored, we will be better prepared to understand and respond to any future petroleum releases into marine systems.

Through GoMRI research funding, scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science have helped to significantly enhance our  knowledge of Gulf ecosystems and the impacts of oil spills on the Gulf.

Oil spills are a persistent threat to the Gulf of Mexico and GoMRI scientists have rapidly responded to these spills. Within a few days of the July 2013 explosion on the Hercules gas platform off the coast of Louisiana, a diverse team of GoMRI scientists from five research consortia, including the University of Miami-based Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE), quickly mobilized to visit the rig site.

CARTHE's partenevia plane over the R/V Walton Smith in the Gulf of Mexico Photo credit: CARTHE/Tamay Ozgokmen

CARTHE’s partenevia plane over the R/V Walton Smith in the Gulf of Mexico
Photo credit: CARTHE/Tamay Ozgokmen

University of Miami Rosenstiel School-based RECOVER consortium, which focuses on the affects of oil exposure on fish, will satellite tag captive mahi-mahi to examine spawning behaviors; look at how oil exposure can alter vision and smell in mahi-mahi and red drum; observe the heart cells of oil-exposed mahi-mahi, evaluate the impacts of oil on genetic profiles of embryos of mahi-mahi and red drum to better predict adverse effects on the heart and whether there can be recovery; use Gulf toadfish to examine how ingesting oil-contaminated seawater affects the ability of marine fish to maintain hydration and electrolyte balance while living in a salty environment.

Professor Claire Paris

Professor Claire Paris

Professor of ocean sciences Claire Paris have been working on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill since the beginning, in April 2010, when she received a National Science Foundation grant to build the oil dispersion model.

Paris is currently a member and lead of the near- and far-field modeling task of the GoMRI-funded Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE), a research consortium of 19 U.S. and international partners focused on effects of oil spills on marine environments based at the University of South Florida.

Three recently funded GoMRI studies from scientists at the UM Rosenstiel School include:

  • UM professor of ocean sciences Lynn “Nick” Shay was awarded GoMRI funding for a three-year study, titled “Three-Dimensional Gulf Circulation and Biogeochemical Processes Unveiled by State of the Art Profiling Float Technology and Data Assimilative Ocean Models.”
  • UM research professor of ocean sciences Villy Kourafalou was awarded funding for a three-year study, titled “Influence of River Induced Fronts on Hydrocarbon Transport.”
  • UM professor of ocean sciences William Drennan was awarded funding for a three-year study, titled “Investigation of Oil Spill Transport in Coupled Wind-Wave Current Environment Using Simulation and Laboratory Studies.”

About GoMRI

All research discussed in this article was made possible by grants from The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). The GoMRI is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

This article was adapted from a news release by Leslie Smith of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership