Study estimates total mass of oil reaching Gulf shore in wake of Deepwater Horizon spill

A research team from the New Jersey Institute of Technology has estimated the total mass of oil that reached the Gulf of Mexico shore in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, which occurred in April of 2010.

Sep 15th, 2014

NEWARK, NJ, Sept. 15, 2014 -- A research team from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) has estimated the total mass of oil that reached the Gulf of Mexico shore in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, which occurred in April of 2010. The first time such an estimate has been reported, the findings will help officials determine the persistence of oil on the shore and identify potential harm to the ecosystem.

The study was conducted by the Center for Natural Resources Development and Protection (NRDP) at NJIT, whose director, Michel Boufadel, is known internationally for oil-spill research. Three researchers from the center -- Xiaolong Geng, Ali Abdollahi Nasab and Jagadish Torlapati -- assisted Boufadel in the study.

The researchers found that 22,000 tons of oil reached the Gulf shoreline, with the mass of oil reaching the shoreline between 10,000 and 30,000 tons and an average value of 22,000 tons. This amount represents about 5 percent of the total oil released in the Gulf from the incident. Likewise, more than 90 percent of the oil mass landed in Louisiana, suggesting the severe impact on the state in comparison to other ones.

In comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 deposited 15,000 tons of oil on the shorelines of Prince William Sound, Alaska. Boufadel, who researched the Exxon spill, said the amount of oil reaching the shore from Deepwater is comparable to the Exxon spill. Many researchers have studied the Deepwater Horizon spill, but none have been able to estimate the mass of oil that reached the Gulf shore, says Boufadel. That's because the oil spread over the surface water in minute particles -- 100 microns or less -- and made it difficult to measure.

The paper found that due to evaporation and sinking, the oil disappears off the surface at a rate of 20 percent per day. Therefore, only about 50 percent of the oil remains on the water surface after four days. Adopting the latest computational models from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Boufadel's team used sophisticated satellites to evaluate the depletion of oil from the surface water.

"That is what gave us an integrated view of the oil that other researchers were not aware of," said Boufadel, who is also a professor of civil and environmental engineering at NJIT. "The NRDP research team was successful as it was able to combine engineering and environmental capabilities with computational skills."

See also:

"Study of Gulf Coast Deepwater spill site reveals key to tracking pollutants"

"Deepwater Horizon oil spill impacts in Gulf of Mexico assessed in new study"

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