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Geophysical Monograph Series



  • Deepwater Horizon
  • oil spill
  • plume model
  • hydrodynamic model
  • particle-tracking model
  • oil droplets

Index Terms

  • 4251 Oceanography: General: Marine pollution
  • 4534 Oceanography: Physical: Hydrodynamic modeling
  • 4536 Oceanography: Physical: Hydrography and tracers
  • 4255 Oceanography: General: Numerical modeling



Simulating Oil Droplet Dispersal From the Deepwater Horizon Spill With a Lagrangian Approach

E. W. North, E. E. Adams, Z. Schlag, C. R. Sherwood, R. He, K. H. Hyun, and S. A. Socolofsky

An analytical multiphase plume model, combined with time-varying flow and hydrographic fields generated by the 3-D South Atlantic Bight and Gulf of Mexico model (SABGOM) hydrodynamic model, were used as input to a Lagrangian transport model (LTRANS), to simulate transport of oil droplets dispersed at depth from the recent Deepwater Horizon MC 252 oil spill. The plume model predicts a stratification-dominated near field, in which small oil droplets detrain from the central plume containing faster rising large oil droplets and gas bubbles and become trapped by density stratification. Simulated intrusion (trap) heights of ∼ 310–370 m agree well with the midrange of conductivity-temperature-depth observations, though the simulated variation in trap height was lower than observed, presumably in part due to unresolved variability in source composition (percentage oil versus gas) and location (multiple leaks during first half of spill). Simulated droplet trajectories by the SABGOM-LTRANS modeling system showed that droplets with diameters between 10 and 50 μm formed a distinct subsurface plume, which was transported horizontally and remained in the subsurface for >1 month. In contrast, droplets with diameters ≥90 μm rose rapidly to the surface. Simulated trajectories of droplets ≤50 μm in diameter were found to be consistent with field observations of a southwest-tending subsurface plume in late June 2010 reported by Camilli et al. [2010]. Model results suggest that the subsurface plume looped around to the east, with potential subsurface oil transport to the northeast and southeast. Ongoing work is focusing on adding degradation processes to the model to constrain droplet dispersal.

Citation: North, E. W., E. E. Adams, Z. Schlag, C. R. Sherwood, R. He, K. H. Hyun, and S. A. Socolofsky (2011), Simulating oil droplet dispersal from the Deepwater Horizon spill with a Lagrangian approach, in Monitoring and Modeling the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: A Record-Breaking Enterprise, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 195, edited by Y. Liu et al., pp. 217–226, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/2011GM001102.

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