Mississippi River Plume Played Role in BP Oil Spill
The Mississippi River plume played a significant role in the the transportation of oil following the 2009 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new study, which suggests the complex circulation of the river plume was directly connected to the outcome of the disaster.
By developing a high-resolution model of the oil spill, Villy Kourafalou, a scientist with the University of Miami, was able to demonstrate that the oil patch was under the influence of daily variability in the Mississippi River.
The model revealed that the river plume created fronts that prevented some of the oil spilled from reaching the coasts east of the Mississippi Delta, while plume currents captured some oil to the west of the delta and brought it to shore.
"Since the Gulf of Mexico is such a complex ocean system, and the oil spill was near the Mississippi Delta, we realized we had to carefully account for both the offshore currents and the coastal currents, which are largely dominated by the Mississippi River plume," said Kourafalou. "The model was validated with data and is now part of an Earth System modeling framework to help inform decision makers in the future."
The study is reportedly the first to establish a connection between the surface signatures of a large river plume and the release of hydrocarbons from a deep sea oil plume.
"The new prediction modeling system can help better understand the transport of oil and other pollutants under the complex circulation in the Gulf of Mexico. Waters of Mississippi origin can be often traced as far south as the Florida Straits, potentially impacting the Florida Keys," the University of Miami said in a news release.
The study appears in the current edition of of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans. The research was funded in part by Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, which was established by BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.