Understanding the next marine oil spill

In April 2010, the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in the loss of 11 lives and the resulting oil spill was the largest accidental marine spill in recorded history.

2018.01.20 | Peter Schmidt Mikkelsen

Carlson drifter. Photo: Dan Carlson

The need to accurately predict the drift and spread of the oil became apparent early in the response efforts but the numerical ocean models used only captured the large scale (~10 km) processes, which did not resolve the many smaller-scale filaments and patches that were observed.

The Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE; http://carthe.org/) has been funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/) to understand the physical processes that control the transport and dispersion of marine oil spills. CARTHE's Lagrangian Submesoscale Experiment (LASER) used 1000 biodegradable surface drifters, 2 ships, 3 planes, and an aerostat (fancy balloon) to study surface ocean dispersion over a range of space and time scales in the northern Gulf in January-February 2016. These research activities were recently featured in a documentary, which is narrated by Matt Damon. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv26DdydegM&t=0s)

Dan Carlson, a postdoc at the Arctic Research Centre, developed the Ship-Tethered Aerostat Remote Sensing System (http://carthe.org/blog/?p=376) to study dispersion by small-scale turbulence (1 m - 200 m, minutes to hours). Dan is currently adapting this technology for use in the Arctic (https://www.researchgate.net/project/Greenland-Ice-Sheet-Ocean-Interactions/update/59b8e7c1b53d2feafb694e22)

Arctic Research Centre