Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year One Block Grant - Louisiana State University

Project Overview

Observations and Modeling to Advance a Louisiana Coastal Circulation and Oil Spill Prediction System

Principal Investigator
Louisiana State University
Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences
Member Institutions
Louisiana State University, Naval Research Laboratory at Stennis Space Center


The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill produced complex patterns of surface oil along the Mississippi River deltaic coast, challenging our current knowledge on the transport and fate of oil and chemicals associated with a release from a deepwater event. The vulnerability of Louisiana's deltaic coastal region to continued operations of oil and gas activities can be reduced by improving predictions of the transport and fate of oil as modified by complex river, current, wind and wave conditions. We propose to develop and validate a coupled observation-hindcasting-forecasting system for the northern Gulf of Mexico with capabilities to replicate the past DWH events and predict future size and movement of surface oil slicks from offshore release sites to Louisiana's coastal wetlands. This coupled modeling-observation system will provide a mechanism to evaluate benefits and limitations associated with dispersant treatments and various river management options (e.g. from existing managed river diversions) that have the potential benefit of reducing oil disturbance in near-shore environments.

The proposed project is comprised of four main components. Component I features Simulation Modeling and involves scientists from several LSU departments and colleges as well as the Naval Research Laboratory. The forecasting system will couple Finite Volume Coastal Ocean Model (FVCOM) bay modules (20 - I 000 m resolution) to an enhanced FVCOM shelf module {I - I 0 km resolution), with offshore conditions provided by Naval Research Laboratory's operational Intra-Americas Sea Nowcast/Forecast System (NRL IASNFS; - 6 km resolution). Aspects of oil dispersion and weathering will be simulated using the NOAA Automated Data Inquiry for Oil Spills (ADIOS2) model. The shelf and bay modules will be validated with observational data provided by components 2 and 3. Component 2 is the Wave-Current-Surge Information System (WA-VCIS), a real-time Louisiana coastal observation system that operates six shelf stations to measure mainly winds, waves, currents, temperature and salinity. Component 3 is the Earth Scan Laboratory (ESL), a real-time satellite receiving station and image processing facility, which has developed specialized techniques for tracking ocean currents, surface oil, river plumes, and algal blooms. Component 4 provides Integrated Visualization capability for viewing, analyzing, and communicating results from model simulations and model-data integration. The visualization component will involve scientists from LSU Center for Computation and Technology and will enhance our ability to inform coastal resource managers and decision makers.

Equipment enhancements are proposed to the two observational systems to improve their capabilities to respond to future events. These improvements are essential to ensure real-time access to in-situ and remotely sensed data for model validation and will be in support of environmental catastrophes, such as oil and chemical spills, floods and hurricanes. This project will position scientists and engineers to more effectively manage Louisiana's river water resources to mitigate negative impacts associated with oil spills in the future. The main product deliverables will be upgraded operational systems along the Louisiana coast and a well-validated real-time operational model to predict and manage oil motion and fate on Louisiana's continental shelf, bays, and channels connecting to its fragile and endangered wetlands. The model framework can also be used by federal and state agencies in contingency planning and to aid in decision-making.

This research was made possible by a grant from BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.