Simulating Surface Oil Transport During the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Experiments with the BioCast System

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Marine Science


The U. S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is developing nowcast/forecast software systems designed to combine satellite ocean color data streams with physical circulation models in order to produce prognostic fields of ocean surface materials. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico provided a test case for the Bio-Optical Forecasting (BioCast) system to rapidly combine the latest satellite imagery of the oil slick distribution with surface circulation fields in order to produce oil slick transport scenarios and forecasts. In one such sequence of experiments, MODIS satellite true color images were combined with high-resolution ocean circulation forecasts from the Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS(R)) to produce 96-h oil transport simulations. These oil forecasts predicted a major oil slick landfall at Grand Isle, Louisiana, USA that was subsequently observed. A key driver of the landfall scenario was the development of a coastal buoyancy current associated with Mississippi River Delta freshwater outflow. In another series of experiments, longer-term regional circulation model results were combined with oil slick source/sink scenarios to simulate the observed containment of surface oil within the Gulf of Mexico. Both sets of experiments underscore the importance of identifying and simulating potential hydrodynamic conduits of surface oil transport. The addition of explicit sources and sinks of surface oil concentrations provides a framework for increasingly complex oil spill modeling efforts that extend beyond horizontal trajectory analysis. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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Ocean Modelling



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