Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 29 Issue 03

View Issue TOC
Volume 29, No. 3
Pages 64 - 75

How Do Oil, Gas, and Water Interact Near a Subsea Blowout?

Scott A. Socolofsky E. Eric AdamsClaire B. ParisDi Yang
Article Abstract

Oil and gas from a subsea blowout shatter into droplets and bubbles that rise through the water column, entraining ambient seawater and forming a plume. Local density stratification and currents eventually arrest this rising plume, and the entrained water, enriched with dissolved hydrocarbons and some of the smaller oil droplets, forms one or more subsurface intrusion layers. Beyond the plume and intrusion layer(s), droplets and bubbles advect and diffuse by local currents and dissolve and biodegrade as they rise to the surface, where they are transported by wind and waves. These processes occur over a wide range of length scales that preclude simulation by any single model, but separate models of varying complexity are available to handle the different processes. Here, we summarize existing models and point out areas of ongoing and future research.


Socolofsky, S.A., E.E. Adams, C.B. Paris, and D. Yang. 2016. How do oil, gas, and water interact near a subsea blowout? Oceanography 29(3):64–75, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2016.63.


Aman, Z.M., C.B. Paris, E.F. May, M.L. Johns, and D. Lindo-Atichati. 2015. High-pressure visual experimental studies of oil-in-water dispersion droplet size. Chemical Engineering Science 127:392–400, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ces.2015.01.058.

Bellani, G., and E.A. Variano. 2012. Slip velocity of large neutrally buoyant particles in turbulent flows. New Journal of Physics 14:25,009–25,009, https://doi.org/10.1088/1367-2630/14/12/125009.

Bombardelli, F.A., G.C. Buscaglia, C.R. Rehmann, L.E. Rincon, and M.H. Garcia. 2007. Modeling and scaling of aeration bubble plumes: A two-phase flow analysis. Journal of Hydraulic Research 45(5):617–630, https://doi.org/10.1080/​00221686.2007.9521798.

Brandvik, P.J., Ø. Johansen, F. Leirvik, U. Farooq, and P.S. Daling. 2013. Droplet breakup in subsurface oil releases: Part 1. Experimental study of droplet breakup and effectiveness of dispersant injection. Marine Pollution Bulletin 73(1):319–326, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.05.020.

Camilli, R., D. Di Iorio, A. Bowen, C.M. Reddy, A.H. Techet, D.R. Yoerger, L.L. Whitcomb, J.S. Seewald, S.P. Sylva, and J. Fenwick. 2011. Acoustic measurement of the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well flow rate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109:20,235–20,239, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1100385108.

Chan, G., A. Chow, and E.E. Adams. 2015. Effects of droplet size on intrusion of sub-surface oil spills. Environmental Fluid Mechanics 15:959–973, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10652-014-9389-5.

Chen, B., C. Yang, C. Meneveau, and M. Chamecki. 2016a. Effects of swell on transport and dispersion of oil plumes within the ocean mixed layer. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans 121:3,564–3,578, https://doi.org/10.1002/2015JC011380.

Chen, B., D. Yang, C. Meneveau, and M. Chamecki. 2016b. ENDLESS: An extended nonperiod domain large-eddy simulation approach for scalar plumes. Ocean Modelling 101:121–132, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocemod.2016.04.003.

Chen, F.H., and P.D. Yapa. 2001. Estimating hydrate formation and decomposition of gases released in a deepwater ocean plume. Journal of Marine Systems 30:21–32, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0924-7963(01)00032-X.

Du, M.R., and J.D. Kessler. 2012. Assessment of the spatial and temporal variability of bulk hydrocarbon respiration following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Environmental Science & Technology 46(19):10,499–10,507, https://doi.org/10.1021/es301363k.

Fabregat, A., W.K. Dewar, T. Özgökmen, and A.C. Poje. 2015. Numerical simulations of turbulent thermal, bubble and hybrid plumes. Ocean Modelling 90:16–28, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.ocemod.2015.03.007.

Fraga, B., T. Stoesser, C.C.K. Lai, and S.A. Socolofsky. 2016. A LES-based Eulerian–Lagrangian approach to predict the dynamics of bubble plumes. Ocean Modelling 9,727–9,736, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.ocemod.2015.11.005.

Gopalan, B., and J. Katz. 2010. Turbulent shearing of crude oil mixed with dispersants generates long microthreads and microdroplets. Physical Review Letters 104, 054501, https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.104.054501.

Hinze, J.O. 1955. Fundamentals of the hydrodynamic mechanism of splitting in dispersion processes. AIChE Journal 1(3):289–295, https://doi.org/10.1002/aic.690010303.

Hoult, D.P. 1972. Oil spreading on the sea. Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics 4:341–367, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.fl.04.010172.​002013.

Johansen, Ø. 2003. Development and verification of deep-water blowout models. Marine Pollution Bulletin 47:360–368, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0025-326X(03)00202-9.

Johansen, Ø., P.J. Brandvik, and U. Farooq. 2013. Droplet breakup in subsea oil releases: Part 2. Predictions of droplet size distributions with and without injection of chemical dispersants. Marine Pollution Bulletin 73(1):327–335, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.04.012.

Johansen, Ø., H. Rye, and C. Cooper. 2003. DeepSpill: Field study of a simulated oil and gas blowout in deep water. Spill Science & Technology Bulletin 8:433–443, https://doi.org/10.1016/S1353-2561(02)00123-8.

Kessler, J.D., D.L. Valentine, M.C. Redmond, M. Du, E.W. Chan, S.D. Mendes, E.W. Quiroz, C.J. Villanueva, S.S. Shusta, L.M. Werra, and others. 2011. A persistent oxygen anomaly reveals the fate of spilled methane in the deep Gulf of Mexico. Science 331:312–315, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1199697.

Ledwell, J.R., R. He, S.F. DiMarco, L. Spencer, and P. Chapman. 2016. Dispersion of a tracer in the deep Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Geophysical Research 121:1,110–1,132, https://doi.org/​10.1002/2015JC011405.

Lindo-Atichati, D., C.B. Paris, M. Le Hénaff, M. Schedler, A.G. Valladares Juárez, and R. Müller. 2014. Simulating the effects of droplet size, high-pressure biodegradation, and variable flow rate on the subsea evolution of deep plumes from the Macondo blowout. Deep Sea Research Part II 129:301–310, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.dsr2.2014.01.011

Milgram, J.H. 1983. Mean flow in round bubble plumes. Journal of Fluid Mechanics 133:345–376, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022112083001950.

Nagamine, S.I. 2014. The effects of chemical dispersants on buoyant oil droplets. MSc Thesis, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Nissanka, I.D., and P.D. Yapa. 2016. Calculation of oil droplet size distribution in an underwater oil well blowout. Journal of Hydraulic Research 54(3):307–320, https://doi.org/10.1080/00221686.2016.1144656.

North, E.W., E.E. Adams, A.E. Thessen, Z. Schlag, R. He, S.A. Socolofsky, S.M. Masutani, and S.D. Peckham. 2015. The influence of droplet size and biodegradation on the transport of subsurface oil droplets during the Deepwater Horizon spill: A model sensitivity study. Environmental Research Letters 10(2), 024016, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/10/2/024016.

Paris, C.B., J. Helgers, E. van Sebille, and A. Srinivasan. 2013. Connectivity Modeling System: A probabilistic modeling tool for the multi-scale tracking of biotic and abiotic variability in the ocean. Environmental Modelling & Software 42:47–54, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.envsoft.2012.12.006.

Paris, C.B., M.L. Hénaff, Z.M. Aman, A. Subramaniam, J. Helgers, D.-P. Wang, V.H. Kourafalou, and A. Srinivasan. 2012. Evolution of the Macondo well blowout: Simulating the effects of the circulation and synthetic dispersants on the subsea oil transport. Environmental Science & Technology 46:13,293–13,302, https://doi.org/​10.1021/es303197h.

Reddy, C.M., J.S. Arey, J.S. Seewald, S.P. Sylva, K.L. Lemkau, R.K. Nelson, C.A. Carmichael, C.P. McIntyre, J. Fenwick, G.T. Ventura, and others. 2011. Composition and fate of gas and oil released to the water column during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109:20,229–20,234, https://doi.org/​10.1073/pnas.1101242108.

Rehder, G., I. Leifer, P.G. Brewer, G. Friederich, and E.T. Peltzer. 2009. Controls on methane bubble dissolution inside and outside the hydrate stability field from open ocean field experiments and numerical modeling. Marine Chemistry 114:19–30, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marchem.2009.03.004.

Ryerson, T.B., K.C. Aikin, W.M. Angevine, E.L. Atlas, D.R. Blake, C.A. Brock, F.C. Fehsenfeld, R.-S. Gao, J.A. de Gouw, D. Fahey, and others. 2011. Atmospheric emissions from the Deepwater Horizon spill constrain air-water partitioning, hydrocarbon fate, and leak rate. Geophysical Research Letters 38, L07803, https://doi.org/​10.1029/2011GL046726.

Socolofsky, S.A., and E.E. Adams. 2002. Multi-phase plumes in uniform and stratified crossflow. Journal of Hydraulic Research 40(6), 661–672, https://doi.org/10.1080/00221680209499913.

Socolofsky, S.A., and E.E. Adams. 2005. Role of slip velocity in the behavior of stratified multiphase plumes. Journal of Hydraulic Engineering 131(4):273–282, https://doi.org/​10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9429(2005)131:4(273).

Socolofsky, S.A., E.E. Adams, M.C. Boufadel, Z.M. Aman, Ø. Johansen, W.J. Konkel, D. Lindo, M.N. Madsen, E.W. North, C.B. Paris, and others. 2015. Intercomparison of oil spill prediction models for accidental blowout scenarios with and without subsea chemical dispersant injection. Marine Pollution Bulletin 96(1–2):110–126, https://doi.org/​10.1016/j.marpolbul.2015.05.039.

Socolofsky, S.A., E.E. Adams, and C.R. Sherwood. 2011. Formation dynamics of subsurface hydrocarbon intrusions following the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Geophysical Research Letters 38, L09602, https://doi.org/10.1029/2011GL047174.

Socolofsky, S.A., T. Bhaumik, and D.-G. Seol. 2008. Double-plume integral models for near-field mixing in multiphase plumes. Journal of Hydraulic Engineering 134:(6)772–783, https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9429(2008)134:6(772).

Tang, L., and S.M. Masutani. 2003. Laminar and turbulent flow liquid-liquid jet instability and breakup. Paper presented at the Thirteenth International Offshore and Polar Engineering Conference, May 25–30, 2003, Honolulu, HI.

Tarr, M.A., P. Zito, E.B. Overton, G.M. Olson, P.L. Adhikari, and C.M. Reddy. 2016. Weathering of oil spilled in the marine environment. Oceanography 29(3):126–135, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2016.77.

Testa, J., E.E. Adams, E.W. North, and R. He. In press. Estimating the influence of deep water application of dispersants on the surface expression of oil using a particle tracking model. Journal of Geophysical Research.

Valentine, D.L., J.D. Kessler, M.C. Redmond, S.D. Mendes, M.B. Heintz, C. Farwell, L. Hu, F.S. Kinnaman, S. Yvon-Lewis, M.R. Du, and others. 2010. Propane respiration jump-starts microbial response to a deep oil spill. Science 330:208–211, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1196830.

Wang, B., S.A. Socolofsky, J.A. Breier, and J.S. Seewald. 2016. Observations of bubbles in natural seep flares at MC 118 and GC 600 using in situ quantitative imaging. Journal of Geophysical Research 121(4):2,203–2,230, https://doi.org/​10.1002/2015JC011452.

Wang, C.Y., and R.V. Calabrese. 1986. Drop breakup in turbulent stirred-tank contactors: Part II. Relative influence of viscosity and interfacial tension. AIChE Journal 32(4):667–676, https://doi.org/10.1002/aic.690320417.

Wang, D., and E.E. Adams. 2016. Intrusion dynamics of particle plumes in stratified water with weak crossflow: Application to deep ocean blowouts. Journal of Geophysical Research 121, https://doi.org/10.1002/2015JC011324.

Wang, Z., S.F. DiMarco, and S.A. Socolofsky. 2016. Turbulence measurements in the northern Gulf of Mexico: Application to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on droplet dynamics. Deep Sea Research Part I 109:40–50, https://doi.org/​10.1016/j.dsr.2015.12.013.

Warzinski, R.P., R. Lynn, I. Haljasmaa, I. Leifer, F. Shaffer, B.J. Anderson, and J.S. Levine. 2014. Dynamic morphology of gas hydrate on a methane bubble in water: Observations and new insights for hydrate film models. Geophysical Research Letters 41:6,841–6,847, https://doi.org/10.1002/2014GL061665.

Yang, D., M. Chamecki, and C. Meneveau. 2014. Inhibition of oil plume dilution in Langmuir ocean circulation. Geophysical Research Letters 41(5):1,632–1,638, https://doi.org/​10.1002/2014GL059284.

Yang, D., B. Chen, M. Chamecki, and C. Meneveau. 2015. Oil plumes and dispersion in Langmuir, upper-ocean turbulence: Large-eddy simulations and K-profile parameterization. Journal of Geophysical Research 120(7):4,729–4,759, https://doi.org/10.1002/2014JC010542.

Yang, D., B. Chen, S.A. Socolofsky, M. Chamecki, and C. Meneveau. 2016. Large-eddy simulation and parameterization of buoyant plume dynamics in stratified flow. Journal of Fluid Mechanics 794:798–833, https://doi.org/10.1017/jfm.2016.191.

Zhao, L., M.C. Boufadel, E.E. Adams, S.A. Socolofsky, T. King, K. Lee, and T. Nedwed. 2015. Simulation of scenarios of oil droplet formation from the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Marine Pollution Bulletin 101(1):304–319, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.marpolbul.2015.10.068.

Zhao, L., M.C. Boufadel, S.A. Socolofsky, E. Adams, T. King, and K. Lee. 2014. Evolution of droplets in subsea oil and gas blowouts: Development and validation of the numerical model VDROP-J. Marine Pollution Bulletin 83(1):58–69, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2014.04.020.

Zheng, L., and P.D. Yapa. 2000. Buoyant velocity of spherical and nonspherical bubbles/droplets. Journal of Hydraulic Engineering 126(11):852–854, https://doi.org/​10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9429(2000)126:11(852).

Zheng, L., and P.D. Yapa. 2002. Modeling gas dissolution in deepwater oil/gas spills. Journal of Marine Systems 31(4):299–309, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0924-7963(01)00067-7.