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R/V Oceanus (Photo credit: WHOI)

Map showing ship's planned track in the Gulf of Mexico

ESRL to Study Impacts of Deepwater Horizon Spill on Air-Sea Transfer

August 6, 2010

In response to the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, researchers from the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) will take part in a research cruise between August 11 and September 21, 2010, to address air-sea fluxes in application to air quality and oceanography. PSD is installing a portable seagoing flux system onboard the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's R/V Oceanus to measure CO2 and methane fluxes and look for direct emissions from the DWH well. They will also measure surface stress – to see if the ocean is "slicker," and the evaporation rate – to find out if it is being suppressed by a surface film. The flux observations are "piggybacking" on a National Science Foundation oceanographic nitrogen fixation study that is coincidentally taking the Oceanus to the Gulf of Mexico in this timeframe.

The DWH accident has created a strong source of petroleum and methane gas that has created a complicated plume of hydrocarbon contamination in the deep waters of the Gulf, and a large plume at the water surface that will affect several properties of air-sea transfer. The nature of the plume has been further complicated by the extensive use of chemical dispersants.

The interaction between the ocean and atmosphere is an important component in understanding the Earth's complex climate system. In addition to profoundly impacting the ecosystem and economy of the region, the DWH incident has perturbed several chemical and physical aspects of the Gulf waters that are important to the nation. For example, this experiment will focus on CO2 and methane, which are important greenhouse gases. Because the general energy and momentum balance of the Gulf has been disturbed, this disaster could also affect the dynamics of hurricanes.

Contact: Chris Fairall