Dr. Piers Chapman at Texas A&M University was awarded an RFP-I grant at $14,403,000 to lead the GoMRI Gulf of Mexico Integrated Spill Response Consortium (GISR) that eventually consisted 26 PIs from 12 collaborative institutions, 28 other researchers and technical personnel, and 33 students, for a total of 87 research team members (not all of these were permanent members of the research group throughout the project). The goals of GISR were to understand and predict the fundamental behavior of petroleum fluids in the ocean environment and to develop a multi-scale modeling system validated by field and laboratory experiments to track the pathways of transforming hydrocarbons released from deep oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. GISR investigations included a multi-scale suite of field and laboratory experiments that targeted critical deficiencies in the understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological behavior of petroleum fluids as they transit the Gulf from a deep oil spill to the beach, marsh, estuary, or atmosphere. GISR planned to synthesize this understanding through the application of a validated, multi-scale numerical model of petroleum fate and transport in the Gulf, and this was achieved.
Over its award period (3 years, plus a 12-month no-cost extension), GISR organized approximately 48 outreach activities or products. The two major activities were:
- GISR scientists were invited to contribute to a special exhibit at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The exhibit, “Offshore Drilling: The Promise of Discovery,” attracted more than 125,000 visitors.
- A drift card program was initiated in the Gulf of Mexico that led to the release of over 7,500 drift cards during the period of the project, of which almost 600 were returned by the public. The project garnered very considerable interest, with over 250 mentions in the press and via radio and television, and over 2 million hits on various websites.
- Work performed during two cruises on the E.V. Nautilus was streamed live from the ship. At one station during a cruise in April 2015, the ROV was visited by a curious young sperm whale, and the video from this encounter received over 1.5 million hits within a week of the video’s release (total views for the You-tube version currently total over 2.5 million hits; there are numerous other versions on the web).
Other than this, members of the consortium gave numerous interviews on the potential for additional spills and their likely effects of the oil spill on the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico, as well as a number of public presentations on the work being done.
GISR research, which entailed 10 research cruises or expeditions, has so far resulted in 58 peer-reviewed publications (plus 12 by members of the consortium before GoMRI funding was received), 145 scientific presentations, and 52 datasets being submitted to the GoMRI Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC), which are/will be available to the public. An additional 35 publications have been submitted for peer review and are expected to appear over the next few months. GISR engaged 33 students over its award period. Significant outcomes of GISR research according to GoMRI Research Theme are highlighted below. In addition, the consortium collected large amounts of hydrological and chemical data to provide background information on the state of the Gulf of Mexico for use by the modeling groups.
Theme 1: Physical Processes
- GISR modeling groups linked various local and regional models, such as the SABGOM Gulf-wide model, TXLA shelf model, and SUNTANS Galveston Bay model, through the LTRANS (particle tracking) software developed for this investigation. Particles initiated by LTRANS, which includes the ability to parameterize decomposition rates of individual chemical compounds in crude oil, were advected successfully through the model suite and crossed the boundaries between them. These models are also linked to the atmosphere via the coupled regional climate model.
- GISR investigators obtained data on bubble plumes that have helped to quantify, for the first time, how turbulent dissipation occurs in multi-phase plumes. Collaborators at the New Jersey Institute of Technology are using these data to develop physics-based breakup models for oil and gas in order to predict bubble and droplet size distribution.
- GISR investigators made two cruises to natural oil and gas seep sites in the Gulf of Mexico and obtained video imagery that has permitted us to observe directly how deep ocean bubble plumes behave in the environment. They also proved that such bubble plumes may be tracked acoustically until they dissolve several hundred meters above the sea floor.
Theme 2: Chemical/Biological Processes
- Using analytical methodology developed by GISR, the University of California, Berkeley, group developed a detailed, time-dependent model to predict surface-oil composition and evaporation along with subsequent atmospheric secondary aerosol formation. Laboratory experiments suggested that surface oil samples taken following the Macondo well blowout took different times to reach the surface. GISR investigators also developed a new theoretical description for how non-spherical particles move in turbulent flow conditions and are looking at how oil particles interact with other particles in the water column, such as phytoplankton cells and marine snow. They found that smaller droplets are less able to interact with other particles.
- Researchers at GISR completed work on spherical oil droplet disintegration and are investigating how differently shaped nozzles (round, triangular, and other shapes) affect droplet breakup. They are also currently looking at how temperature affects the evolution of oil droplets treated with dispersant.
- GISR researchers at TAMU took part in a cruise to respond to the blowout of the Hercules rig off the coast of Louisiana in July 2013. This cruise was arranged at short notice between members of several GoMRI consortia.
- An analysis by GISR researchers of over 20,000 oil samples collected from the water column during the response to the Deepwater Horizon blowout showed that over 80% were essentially at background levels. This was true for both total hydrocarbons and PAHs, and almost all samples showing higher concentrations were taken from surface slicks or, for subsurface samples, within 50 km of the wellhead. Once the well was capped, concentrations throughout the region fell rapidly to background levels, a sign of vigorous mixing and water column bacterial activity.
Project Research Overview (2015):
An overview of the project research activities from the GoMRI 2015 Meeting in Houston.
Direct link to the Research Overview presentation.
Proposed Research Overview (2011):
For an overview of the proposed research, see the Proposed Research Overview presentation from the GoMRI Fall 2011 Meeting in New Orleans.