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Geophysical Monograph Series



  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Macondo blowout
  • dispersed oil plumes
  • AUV plume mapping
  • oil spill chemistry
  • oil spill response

Index Terms

  • 4251 Oceanography: General: Marine pollution
  • 4219 Oceanography: General: Continental shelf and slope processes
  • 4223 Oceanography: General: Descriptive and regional oceanography
  • 4262 Oceanography: General: Ocean observing systems



A High-Resolution Survey of a Deep Hydrocarbon Plume in the Gulf of Mexico During the 2010 Macondo Blowout

J. P. Ryan

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Moss Landing, California, USA

Y. Zhang

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Moss Landing, California, USA

H. Thomas

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Moss Landing, California, USA

E. V. Rienecker

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Moss Landing, California, USA

R. K. Nelson

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA

S. R. Cummings

NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Miami, Florida, USA

Following destruction of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, while unmitigated blowout from the Macondo well was ongoing, NOAA scientific response cruise GU-10-02 (27 May to 4 June 2010) employed coordinated ship and autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) operations to locate and study deep hydrocarbon plumes. The ship hydrocast survey localized maximum optical signals of a deep plume, centered at ∼1150 m depth, approximately 13 km southwest of the blowout. Deployed at this location, the AUV conducted a high-resolution survey of plume structure, which indicated small-scale topographic influences on plume transport. Maximum plume intensity was observed along the western slope of Biloxi Dome. The orientation of gradients in plume intensity relative to isobaths indicated flow from the dome slope onto the dome top. In terms of the relative proportions of major hydrocarbon groups, all plume samples southwest of the blowout exhibited similar composition. The chemical composition of the plume southwest of the blowout was significantly different from the composition of a weaker deep plume observed southeast of the blowout. Variation in optical signal from a colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) fluorometer (FCDOM) explained up to 97% (median 88%) of the variance in the concentrations of individual hydrocarbon compounds. AUV data also showed that FCDOM was highly correlated with three other optical measurements (r > 0.97) and oxygen measurements (r = −0.95). The results provide unique perspective on small-scale dynamics of a deep plume and illustrate the potential for studying subsurface plumes of dispersed oil using AUVs with off-the-shelf sensors.

Citation: Ryan, J. P., Y. Zhang, H. Thomas, E. V. Rienecker, R. K. Nelson, and S. R. Cummings (2011), A high-resolution survey of a deep hydrocarbon plume in the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Macondo blowout, 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. 63–75, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/2011GM001106.


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