A new study led by scientists at the University of Miami, which was published at Science Advances, revealed that the oil spread from the famous Deepwater Horizon oil spill was expanded in many more areas than what was shown in satellite data.
The Deepwater Horizon explosion is an industrial disaster that began on 20 April 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in 11 deaths, 17 injuries and a discharge of about 4.9 million barrels of oil into the sea, leaving a heavy legacy in the safety history of oil and gas industry.
The researchers combined oil-transport modelling techniques with remote sensing data and in-water sampling to assert that a proportion of the spill was invisible to satellites. The study’s lead author Igal Berenshtein noted that the spill was only visible to satellites above a certain oil concentration at the surface leaving a portion unaccounted for.
Moreover, it is revealed that large areas of the Gulf of Mexico were exposed to invisible and toxic oil that extended beyond the boundaries of the satellite footprint and the fishery closures; Therefore, the study’s results report that the oi spill reached the West Florida shelf, the Texas shores, the Florida Keys and along the Gulf Stream towards the East Florida shelf.
Claire Paris, senior author of the study and professor of ocean sciences the University of Miami Rosenstiel School stated that
This work added a third dimension to what was previously seen as just surface slicks. This additional dimension has been visualized with more realistic and accurate oil spill models developed with a team of chemical engineers and more efficient computing resources.
In addition, given that satellite footprint does not necessarily capture the entire oil extent, the scientists used in situ observations and oil spill transport modelling to examine the full extent of the DWH spill, focusing on toxic-to-biota (i.e., marine organisms) oil concentration ranges.
Concluding, the study, called “Invisible oil beyond the Deepwater Horizon satellite footprint,” was published on February 12, 2020.
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