Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year 8-10 Research Grants (RFP-VI)

Project Overview

Southeastern Gulf of Mexico Processes Affecting Basin-Wide Connectivity and Hydrocarbon Transport: the Role of Mesoscale Eddies and Upwelling Near Cuba

Principal Investigator
University of Miami
Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Member Institutions
Norwegian Meteorological Institute, University of Miami, University of South Florida


"Southeastern Gulf of Mexico processes affecting basin-wide connectivity and hydrocarbon transport: the role of mesoscale eddies and upwelling near Cuba” addresses Theme 1 of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GOMRI), aiming towards a comprehensive observational and modeling study on hydrocarbon transport in areas of strong temperature gradients, in particular the southeastern Gulf of Mexico (GoM). The specific novel processes in the southeastern GoM that the proposed study will focus on are geographically linked to the core of the Loop Current (LC) “base” off northwestern Cuba: 1) The development and evolution of mesoscale anticyclonic eddies, named CubAN eddies (closed circulation cells within a retracted LC or advected eastward, along the northern coast of Cuba). 2) The influence of (a) cyclonic LC frontal eddies and (b) cold filaments induced by air-sea interaction (wind-driven upwelling) on CubAN evolution and the resulting implications on basin-wide LC variability. The overarching study objective is to answer the following questions that have not been previously addressed: – to what extent the southeastern GoM physical ocean processes mentioned above can influence the basin-wide LC evolution? – what was their specific role on the separation of Eddy Franklin and the distribution of oil during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident? – what are the pathways of hydrocarbons potentially released in northern Cuban oil exploration sites and which GoM coastal ecosystems will be mostly affected and to what extent, under oil spill scenarios during different LC phases? – what is the role of frontal temporal density and intensity on the ability of different oil types to cross fronts? The research team is set to address these questions within the 2-year proposed study, based on proven knowledge of GoM dynamics and the careful integration of tools and datasets already developed under GoMRI (primarily from an ongoing project, but also leveraging with other GoMRI and ancillary projects) with new, innovative tasks that will be specifically undertaken under this proposal.


Scientific merit: The proposed project will combine: a) novel scientific questions with the potential of breakthrough discoveries in GoM dynamics; b) relevant tools, data and products developed under GoMRI, including advanced numerical models for the simulation and investigation of oil spill evolution; c) recently obtained in situ observations in Cuban waters and the southeastern GoM, combined with customized satellite data analyses; d) an expert team on GoM dynamics with research accomplishments established through a strong publication record, to accomplish two major goals. First, to contribute to the GoMRI legacy by further advancing the knowledge of GoM oceanographic processes and by developing associated novel data sets, products and publications. Second, to demonstrate how methodologies already developed under GoMRI can be employed in a previously unexplored region of oil exploration.


The team of investigators for this project combines experts in GoM dynamics, in high resolution ocean models and observations, and in oil spill modeling. The team of PIs is thus highly qualified for studying novel ocean processes in southeastern GoM and their potential impact on basin-wide circulation and hydrocarbon transport. The PIs have proven records of specific research accomplishments in the GoM, including studies of basin-wide GoM circulation, LC and eddy dynamics and three-dimensional hydrocarbon transport; they have developed remote sensing state of the art techniques, in tandem with in situ observational strategies, to detect and monitor floating oil and to observe eddies and fronts.


Expected results are: better understanding of the linkages between basin-wide GoM physical connectivity and processes in the southeastern GoM; influence of these linkages on oil transport and dispersion inside GoM, with an application on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident; oil trajectory scenarios for hypothetical spills at exploration sites currently considered in northern Cuba waters; provide useful datasets and response tools to the scientific community, coastal authorities and Gulf States stakeholders.


Outcomes of the proposed methodology development and the overall study products will be fully available to the scientific community and are expected to be an important component in GOMRI’s mission. Outreach products will engage both the GoM coastal communities and the international science community, through the GODAE OceanView Coastal and Shelf Seas Task Team co-chaired by the PI. Educational products will build upon current active engagement with minority middle school teachers (lessons and videos), as tools to motivate minority and female students to choose STEM field careers.

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