GoMRI RFP-V: Topography of Gulf of Mexico Influences Mixing and Distribution of Oil and Gas (Polzin)

The Understanding How the Complex Topography of the Deepwater Gulf of Mexico Influences Water-column Mixing Processes and the Vertical and Horizontal Distribution of Oil and Gas after a Blowout project is lead by Kurt Polzin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

An integrated, multi-platform, observational field effort is proposed that makes direct observations of turbulent mixing in the Gulf of Mexico outer continental slope region near the BP Deepwater Horizon well and across the northern Gulf of Mexico. This study’s main objective is to quantify turbulence-induced dispersion and as such, specifically targets GoMRI Theme 1 which addresses the impact of the physical environment on the distribution, dispersion, and dilution of contaminants. The innovative research plan will obtain ocean turbulence and larger-scale ocean velocity and stratification data from the surface to up to 1000 m water depth using a combination of two Slocum G2 deepwater gliders, a vertically-sampling turbulence Profiler (the High Resolution Profiler) and bottom-anchored moorings. The observations will be made during field campaigns in each of project years 1-3 to ensure a variety of oceanographic and dynamical conditions are sampled. The results of this project will help improve the representation of mixing processes in modern plume dispersal models. Specifically, it is expected that linkages between the vertical distribution of turbulent mixing, the characteristics of the regional bathymetry and the nature of physical forcing phenomena of the northern Gulf of Mexico will be established including the Loop Current, Loop Current Eddies, bottom intensified Topographic Rossby Waves, internal waves, internal tides and surface and near bottom trapped inertial oscillations. Quantification of the turbulent field will support vastly improved forecast capabilities of present and planned numerical models. It should be noted that the turbulence parameterizations used in current GOM models are based on generalizations developed in other oceanographic regimes using very limited data sets. The project will provide research opportunities and at-sea training for a graduate student at Texas A&M University. The research is stand alone, will provide unique observations of vertical turbulent dispersion, and complements currently-funded GoMRI consortia efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

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This project was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) in the RFP-V funding program.

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/.