University of Cambridge > > Institute for Energy and Environmental Flows (IEEF) > Dynamical systems methods for tracking oil dispersion in ocean flowsand their application during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Dynamical systems methods for tracking oil dispersion in ocean flowsand their application during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

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Extraction of characteristic Lagrangian structures governing transport in complex ocean flows is an active area of research. The techniques used in it are those of dynamical systems theory. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 was a substantial test of such theories, given the availability of data from satellite observations and other sources and an active effort of ocean dynamics modeling that was being matched to such observations. We pursued an active modeling and analysis effort during the 2010 spill, within which we proposed a new mixing diagnostic – mesohyperbolicity – that discovers convergent, divergent, rotational and mixing zones in a flow and thus indicated modes of oil dispersion both above and below the surface. Since the irruption of gas and oil into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon event fed a deep sea bacterial bloom that consumed hydrocarbons in the affected waters, formed a regional oxygen anomaly, and altered the microbiology of the region , we also developed a coupled physical–metabolic model to assess the impact of mixing processes on these deep ocean bacterial communities and their capacity for hydrocarbon and oxygen use. We found that observed biodegradation patterns were well-described by exponential growth of bacteria from seed populations present at low abundance and that current oscillation and mixing processes played a critical role in distributing hydrocarbons and associated bacterial blooms within the northeast Gulf of Mexico. One use of these sorts of computations is in oil containment and cleanup. The mesohyperbolicity calculations can provide detailed spatial locations of mixing and concentration events days in advance. In addition, if a layer model is used, providing the velocity field at different depths information on possible locations of underwater plumes can be uncovered and supplied to research vessels so they can perform detailed measurements at those locations.

This talk is part of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Flows (IEEF) series.

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