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

Effects of Turbulence and Waves on the Dispersion, Transport and Fate of Oil Droplets in the Upper Ocean: A Large Eddy Simulation Study

Principal Investigator
Louisiana State University
College of the Coast and Environment
Member Institutions
Louisiana State University, University of California Los Angeles, University of Maryland


Spilled oil in the upper ocean can have damaging effects on the marine ecosystem, and adversely affect the associated coastal communities by posing a health threat and by interrupting economic activities. After entrance into the upper ocean, either rising from a deep ocean blowout or from a near-surface release, spilled oil moves, disperses, and undergoes a series of physical, chemical and biological transformations under the influence of oceanic flows at scales ranging from basin-scale circulation to three-dimensional turbulence scale. Current operational oil spill models are able to resolve oceanic flows from basin- to mesoscale due to recent developments in forecasting ocean models and observing networks, the effects of submesoscale and boundary layer turbulence in these models requires further study.


The primary objective of this project is to better understand the dispersion and transport of oil, and the aggregation processes between oil droplets and large particulate matters, in the turbulent upper ocean. The objective is achieved by a state-of-the-art large eddy computer simulation framework that is capable of simulating ocean currents from fine-scale turbulence to submesoscale currents, and the impact of the currents on the evolution oil droplets and other particulate matters.


The proposed study will advance knowledge in Theme-I “Physical distribution, dispersion, and dilution of petroleum (oil and gas), its constituents, and associated contaminants (e.g., dispersants) under the action of physical oceanographic processes, air–sea interactions, and tropical storms." The proposed research addresses fundamental oceanic dynamical problems on how turbulence influences the dispersion, transport and transformation of non-reactive and reactive tracers. It will complement some of GoMRI’s ongoing efforts to study particle dispersion in submesoscale flows (by the CARTHE consortium). The proposed project will improve our capability to predict the evolution and transformation of oil in the upper ocean, and will provide better and more accurate scientific basis for public-policy decision makers and industry on a range of issues related to short-term and long-term responses and mitigation of oil spills. Although the study focuses on oil droplets, the conclusions can also be generalized to the turbulence influence on gaseous and particulate materials in the ocean including gas bubbles, marine debris and particulate matters.

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