Investigating the effect of oil spills
on the environment and public health.
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Funding Source: Year One Block Grant - The Northern Gulf Institute

Project Overview

OIL: Community Earth Modeling System for the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Principal Investigator
Mississippi State University
Northern Gulf Institute
Member Institutions
Florida State University, Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, University of Southern Mississippi


The objective is to create a community earth modeling framework that knits together all useful numerical models for tracking the transport and fate of oil, oil residues, and oil-contaminated materials and their subsequent effects on the northern Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, with consistent input and output data standards, common verification/validation standards, conserving solutions across multiple models domains with varying scales, and consistent expectations for model ability and limitations.  Individual models for each of the significant processes (atmospherics, hydrology/hydraulics, transport, water quality, biogeochemistry, and ecosystem impacts) either already exist (e.g., NCOM model of the Gulf, EFDC for Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay), or will be created from other NGI-BP projects (e.g., Ecosystem Model). 

These models are essential to a reliable and accurate answer to the question:  Did the Macondo 252 Oil Spill result in large scale perturbation of the northern Gulf of Mexico ecosystem structure or function?  Numerical models offer multiple benefits to the understanding and management of ecosystem effects. 

Three example applications illustrate the benefits:

 1. Integrating knowledge into a testable, holistic framework

 2. Conducting controlled experiments

 3. Predicting future ecosystem effects

Field observations of ecosystem perturbation can be confounded by other contributing driver processes, such as weather variability and fishing pressures.  Only when those observations are used to create and validate models can the effects of single causative factors, such as oil and dispersant products contamination be separated out and understood.  Since there is no one-size-fits-all model, a variety of models must be used in dozens to thousands of simulations in order to properly identify the separate effects of all significant drivers and processes.

This research was made possible by a grant from The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.