Research Looks at How Oil and Water Mix in Gulf Waters in Spill Aftermath

September 04, 2014

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Studying the turbulence in Gulf waters is helping researchers understand how oil and water mix in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico – data that will come in handy during the aftermath of an oil spill.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi student, Jonathan Zikos, a senior environmental chemistry student of Dr. Darek Bogucki, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences, has spent the summer working on the data collected in 2012 near the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which released nearly 4.4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf in 2010.

“The turbulence measurements of the upper two meters will allow for better prediction of oil mixing and spreading,” Bogucki said. “Ultimately letting us predict what kind of action we need to take when faced with another oil spill.”

Examining the particles in the turbulence allows scientists to determine if particles are likely to sink or to stay at the surface, or detect the presence of oil in the water.

 “Turbulence is chaotic and complex,” Zikos said. “Yet it’s the same on almost any scale. Turbulence in the atmosphere of Jupiter looks the same as the turbulence in a cup of coffee and cream, or an ocean with oil in it.”

It is important to study turbulence, Bogucki said, especially in the first two meters of the ocean, because of the heat transfer that takes place between the ocean and the atmosphere. It also controls the movements of nearsurface contaminants.

“The depth and rate of mixing within the oceanic mixed layer are crucial to understanding and quantifying climate dynamics on all scales,” he said.

Zikos is analyzing and categorizing data from Bogucki’s experiments examining the waters’ conductivity, temperature and particle properties or the size and internal particle structure with depth.

“With the sensors, I can see the turbulence in the water, and the particles of stuff floating around in the water,” he said.

The data then goes into a mathematical program to compare the particles for analysis.

Bogucki and his team of student researchers work with the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE), a research group created to protect the environment from existing oil spills and to predict the damage the oil spills will create for the ecosystem and the economy. CARTHE provides interactive graphs and 3D models to aid in the protection of the environment and is funded through Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI).

“I’m very excited to be working on this and seeing where it all leads,” Zikos said. “This could determine my next focus area; the particulates, or the turbulence, or something else. Only time will tell.”

Bogucki’s research focuses on investigation of petroleum released into the Gulf of Mexico by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

He is the recent recipient of an $790,000 grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative for his current research, and he is part of a consortium of 12 research institutions across the nation.