GFDL-CICS-P Study Examines the Fate and Consequences of Suspended and Dissolved Oil and Methane from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
In a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a team of scientists from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) and NOAA's Office of Response and Recovery, including Cooperative Institute for Climate Science - Princeton (CICS-P) scientist and lead author Alistair Adcroft, created and analyzed computer simulations of dissolved oil plumes, both near the surface and in the deep sea, to help assess the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill. According to the study, the deep sea plumes of oil and methane from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill will most likely be contained to the Northern Gulf of Mexico because bio-degradation of oil will tend to balance transport by ocean currents. However, wherever significant microbial oxidation of methane does take place, the regions of the deep ocean where the plumes exist could become depleted of oxygen for up to a year or more.
Background: There is comparatively little experience in forecasting the evolution of spilled oil from deep leaks than forecasting the propagation of a surface oil slick and projecting the consequences. The Deepwater Horizon spill occurred 5,000 feet below the sea surface. To analyze the movement and decay of deep oil, the scientists embedded a simple model of microbial decay of hydrocarbons into a comprehensive ocean circulation model capable of simulating physical conditions in the Gulf at high resolution.
Significance: The deep oil and methane plumes were unlikely to reach beyond the Gulf of Mexico primarily because microbial oxidation of the hydrocarbons consumes the plumes before any significant concentrations could reach the loop current and Florida current systems. This research supports NOAA Mission Goal #1: Protect, Restore, and Manage the Use of Coastal and Ocean Resources through Ecosystem-based Management.
Adcroft, A., R. Hallberg, J. P. Dunne, B. L. Samuels, J. A. Galt, C. H. Barker, and D. Payton (2010), Simulations of underwater plumes of dissolved oil in the Gulf of Mexico, Geophysical. Research Letters , doi:10.1029/2010GL044689.
Name: Alistair Adcroft
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