Oceanographic conditions in the Gulf of Mexico in July 2010, during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

TitleOceanographic conditions in the Gulf of Mexico in July 2010, during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsSmith R.H, Johns E.M, Goni G.J, Trinanes J., Lumpkin R., Wood A.M, Kelble C.R, Cummings S.R, Lamkin JT, Privoznik S.
JournalContinental Shelf Research
Date PublishedApr 1
ISBN Number0278-4343
Accession NumberWOS:000334016000011
KeywordsDeepwater Horizon Oil Spill
AbstractCirculation in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is dominated by mesoscale features that include the Loop Current (LC), Loop Current Rings (LCRs), and smaller frontal eddies. During May-June 2010, while oil was still flowing from the Macondo well following the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) platform explosion on April 20, 2010, drifter trajectories, satellite observations, and numerical simulations indicated a potential for direct connectivity between the northern Gulf and the Florida Straits via the LC system. This pathway could have potentially entrained particles, including northern GOM contaminants related to the oil spill, carrying them directly towards the coastal ecosystems of south Florida and northern Cuba. To assess this connectivity, and to evaluate the potential oil impacts on economically important GOM fisheries, an interdisciplinary shipboard survey was conducted in the eastern Gulf during July 2010. Analysis of the resulting hydrographic data confirmed that: (1) by July 2010 a large LCR had become separated from the main LC by a cyclonic eddy resulting in the loss of a direct transport mechanism from the northern GOM to the Florida Straits, leaving only indirect pathways available to potential contaminants: and (2) with the exception of four hydrographic stations occupied within 84 km of the wellhead, no evidence of oil was found during the survey on the surface or within the water column. These results corroborated analysis of satellite altimetry observations of the GOM surface circulation and verified official surface oil coverage forecasts where they intersected with the survey track. This cruise sampled the LC. LCR, and frontal eddies to a depth of 2000 m, with the results suggesting that any oil entrained by circulation features in prior months had either been weathered, consumed by bacteria, dispersed to undetectable levels, or was only present in unsurveyed areas. The assembled subsurface measurements represent one of only a few data sets collected across the dominant GOM mesoscale circulation features at a time when there was great concern about the potential long-range spreading of DWH related contaminants. Direct observations such as these are critical for the assessment of particle trajectory and circulation models utilized during the spill, and for the improvement of future numerical forecast products. Published by Elsevier Ltd.