Computer Models Reveal Mississippi River's Role in Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill


During the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010, oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, contaminating ocean life and causing major environmental problems. Since then, scientists have examined the incident more closely in order to find out exactly what caused the massive oil plumes to move where they did. Now, they may have their answer. It turns out that the complex circulation from the Mississippi River plume played a hug role in the transport and fate of the oil from the incident. In order to examine the movement of the oil from the spill, the researchers developed a high-resolution model to look at the surface oil patch resulting from the release. More specifically, this model took into account the influence of the daily variability of the Mississippi River, using NOAA observations for the evolution of the surface oil patch. "Since the Gulf of Mexico is such a complex ocean system, and the oil spill was near the Mississippi Delta, we realized we had to carefully account for both the offshore currents and the coastal currents, which are largely dominated by the Mississippi River plume," said Villy Kourafalou, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The model was validated with data and is now part of an Earth System modeling framework to help inform decision makers in the future." The new model shows that fronts created by the Mississippi plume helped to keep the oil released during the Deepwater Horizon incident away from the coasts east of the Mississippi Delta. The model also reveals that plume currents captured some oil to the west of the Mississippi Delta. These findings are important for the future. During the response to the oil spill, responders wondered if flooding the Mississippi River might help to divert the oil being released into the water. Yet there were no models to predict whether or not this would help or hurt their cause at the time. This new model, though, changes all of that. This new study marks the first time a connection has been established between the near surface signatures of a large river plume and the hydrocarbons released from a deep oil plume. This new prediction modeling system can help better understand the transport of oil and pollutants in the Gulf of Mexico. This, in turn, could help inform decisions in the future.



Show on Frontpage