Science Synthesis Produces Books on Deepwater Horizon Findings and Oil Spill Scenarios

This Two Volume Book series synthesizes oil spill science since Deepwater Horizon. The books contain 63 chapters collaboratively authored by over 150 researchers (representing academia, oil industry, and government scientists and contractors). Images used with permission from Springer’s publishing editor for life sciences.

This Two Volume Book series synthesizes oil spill science since Deepwater Horizon. The books contain 63 chapters collaboratively authored by over 150 researchers (representing academia, oil industry, and government scientists and contractors). Images used with permission from Springer’s publishing editor for life sciences.

The synthesis of information is highly sought after, as evident in increased popularity of on-line articles like “Top Takeaways From….” Synthesis is a complex and time-intensive process as subject matter experts analyze curated information, which has been vetted and verified, and bring to light connections and associations that generate new knowledge and insights to inform action.  

Following Deepwater Horizon, there was an unprecedented investment in Gulf of Mexico research which resulted in several thousand studies. The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), a $500M program investigating the effect of oil spills on the environment and public health, is focusing the final years of its ten-year program on the synthesis and legacy of oil spill research. GoMRI-funded consortia are leading topical working groups to capture the program’s scientific discoveries and results.

The C-IMAGE consortium recently completed an ambitious synthesis of oil spill science that pulls from GoMRI, the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process, and other agencies for use in future policy formulation, disaster response, and damage assessments. Their intense two-year effort involved over 150 researchers (representing academia, oil industry, and government scientists and contractors) who collaboratively authored 63 chapters in a two-volume book series titled Deep Oil Spills: Facts, Fate, and Effects and Scenarios and Responses to Future Deep Oil Spills: Fighting the Next War.

C-IMAGE Director Steven Murawski, a biological oceanographer at the University of South Florida, explained the books’ intent:

    The research summarized and recommendations tendered in the pages of these books should be the foundation upon which additional, focused research is supported, and policy changes are debated. These books take on, in a balanced way, critical and controversial issues in oil facility siting, spill preparedness, response, damage assessment and ecosystem restoration.

C-IMAGE Co-Principal Investigator Claire Paris, a biological oceanographer at the University of Miami, described the transformative science featured in the books:

    We have come far in terms of oil spill science since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Because it was the first known deep-sea blowout in history, the transport and fate of the oil were seen as a mystery. Transformative science started to put pieces together and instead of an insolvable mystery, it became a puzzle.

C-IMAGE Co-Principal Investigator David Hollander, a chemical oceanographer at the University of South Florida, described the significance of having multi-stakeholder input:

    The authors provided a broad and balanced perspective of the deep-water oil spills from a diverse set of stakeholders. The state-of-the-knowledge that has been developed over the 10-years is impressive and, moreover, has enabled government agencies, industry, and academia to be better prepared in the event of future deep-water oil spills.

SUMMARY OF VOLUME ONE. Deep Oil Spills: Facts, Fate, and Effects reflects upon several deep-sea spills, including Deepwater Horizon and Ixtoc I (Gulf of Mexico), Montara (Timor Sea), and Chevron’s Brazil spill, and a controlled release experiment DeepSpill (off the Norwegian coast). The book’s theme follows the fate-and effect scheme, covering the physics and chemistry of deep oil spills as oil and gas moved from the seafloor to the ocean’s surface and the marine oil snow sedimentation and flocculent accumulation (MOSSFA) events. There are chapters covering oil spill effects on deep-sea environments, fisheries, marine mammals and other marine life, and coastal communities. The final chapter summarizes progress made on major research issues such as:

  • an improved understanding of the deep-ocean environment,
  • the complex (four dimensional) physics and chemistry of hot oil under pressure discharging into a cold environment,
  • the contribution of natural processes and chemical dispersants to the formation and sequestration of small oil droplets,
  • quantified requirements for MOSSFA formation and assessing these conditions for future events
  • contaminant baselines for Gulf of Mexico sediments, waters, invertebrates, and fishes, and
  • improved capabilities to predict the fate and effects of oil in deep plumes, on the seafloor, and in surface slicks.

SUMMARY OF VOLUME TWO. Scenarios and Responses to Future Deep Oil Spills: Fighting the Next War is forward-looking and provides insights into how future oil spill response and its underlying research can be improved. Chapters examine alternative hypothetical oil spill scenarios in the Gulf of Mexico (includes oil and gas production trends) and beyond (Cuba, west Africa, the Arctic) and identify environmental and human risks based on modeled oil spills scenarios. It also covers the ocean’s biological and physical processes that drive the fate and effects of marine oil spills and newly improved protocols for toxicity testing. The final chapter identifies twenty key research gaps and offers four policy changes that would improve outcomes for ultra-deep oil spill prevention and response:

  • inclusion of site-specific risk assessments as an element of lease sale identification and approval,
  • collection of environmental baselines (both broadscale and installation-specific) and ongoing monitoring of oil contaminants
  • improved transparency and data sharing for oil facility management and accidental releases
  • more formal international engagement in siting, oil spill preparedness, response, and impact assessment

PERSPECTIVES AND INSIGHTS.  Steven Murawski reflected on the GoMRI research consortia involved with producing the books, describing the synthesis process as an amazing journey seeing these large, complex, multidisciplinary programs come to fruition.

C-IMAGE Co-Principal Investigator Michael Schlüter, Chair of the Institute of Multi-Phase Flows at the Hamburg University of Technology, explained that new perspectives came from working in an interdisciplinary team. His group included researchers from geochemistry, multiphase flow, mechanical engineering, and thermodynamics who addressed the physical and chemical properties of oil and gas under reservoir and deep-sea conditions. “Since we usually deal with industrial applications of (multiphase) process engineering, we were able to transfer our engineering knowledge to the oil spill research. Lessons learned are transferable to industrial applications, because the underlying physics are the same.”

Claire Paris and David Hollander reflected on a significant new understanding that the synthesis of Deepwater Horizon research revealed: understanding deep-water oil spills as three-dimensional as opposed to an earlier understanding of one- or two-dimensional. Paris said that this additional dimension “has been visualized with more realistic and accurate oil spill models developed, thanks to the synthetic knowledge and team work of chemical engineering, experimental research, and more efficient computing resources.” Hollander explained that this more holistic understanding improves future predictions of deep-water spills and their and consequences.

GETTING THE WORD OUT. The C-IMAGE team is considering several venues to raise awareness about these oil spill science synthesis products, including the European Congress of Chemical Engineering (September 2019, Florence, Italy), the C-IMAGE workshop “3rd Symposium on Deep-Sea Oil Spills”(December 2019, Hamburg, Germany), the American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting (December 2019, San Francisco, CA), the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Unión Geofísica Mexicana (October 2019, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), and the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference (February 2020, Tampa, FL). Other outreach and awareness activities may include participation in a local “festival of reading” (through the Tampa Bay Times), advertising in oil and gas journals, and incorporating content in teaching materials and podcasts. The books will also be housed in C-IMAGE partner institution libraries.

By Nilde Maggie Dannreuther. Contact maggied@ngi.msstate.edu with questions or comments.

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This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems III (C-IMAGE III).

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

© Copyright 2010-2019 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).