UM Modeling Helping To Clarify Effect of Dispersants on Deepwater Blowout

Team develops and tests models to show effects on water column


MIAMI — (February 12, 2013) — In a recent article in Nature News, reporter Mark Schrope detailed the various efforts underway to establish the effects of the chemical dispersants used on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill. The work will not only tell us about the past, but will also inform any future decisions in case of a similar emergency. Among the efforts Schrope highlights in his article is the work of University of Miami (UM) Associate Professor Claire Paris-Limouzy and her colleagues.

The team was the first to examine the effects of the use of unprecedented quantities of synthetic dispersants on the distribution of an oil mass in the water column, based on a modeling approach. Working collaboratively they developed and tested models that demonstrate that the application of oil-dispersing chemicals had little effect on the oil surfacing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Paris-Limouzy and the team estimated the distribution of oil droplet sizes with and without injection of dispersants at the wellhead. They then applied a novel oil-mass tracking model of the Connectivity Modeling System (CMS) developed shortly after the DWH incident using a RAPID award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and presented a three-dimensional simulation of the DWH spill showing the unfolding of the disaster to examine the effect the synthetic dispersant may have had on the oil transport in the water column. The model indicated that the oil may have been dispersed by the turbulent discharge contributing to the observed so-called deep plume. The subsea application of dispersant did not have its expected outcome, according to a peer-reviewed article that appeared in the journal Environmental Science and Technology in November 2012.

“Scientists working on this aspect of the oil spill concur that a powerful chemical dispersant was applied at Macondo. But it has since become clear that numerical simulations could have helped us to assess the alternatives available, and quantify the trade-offs we were making in terms of water column contamination. Our numerical model can help estimate the trapping of oil at depth that prevents the bulk of oil reaching the surface,” said Paris-Limouzy, who is one of the Principal Investigators of the Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of the Gulf EcoSystem (C-IMAGE), funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Insititute.

In addition to Paris-Limouzy the team of researchers included UM Assistant Scientist Matthieu Le Henaff, Scientist Judith Helgers, Research Associate Professor Ashwanth Srinivasan, and Research Associate Professor Villy Kourafalou, Dr. Zachary Aman from Colorado School of Mines, Research Associate Professor Ajit Subramaniam from Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, and Professor Dong-Ping Wang from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science of SUNY at Stony Brook.

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