Impacts of loop current frontal cyclonic eddies and wind forcing on the 2010 gulf of mexico oil spill

Nan D. Walker, Chet T. Pilley, Vandana V. Raghunathan, Eurico J. D'Sa, Robert R. Leben, Nicholas G. Hoffmann, Peter J. Brickley, Patrice D. Coholan, Neha Sharma, Hans C. Graber, Raymond E. Turner

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

42 Scopus citations


The 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the largest in U.S. history, highlights the environmental risks inherent in deepwater drilling. These risks were mitigated by rapid access to real-time satellite measurements from passive (optical, IR) and active (synthetic aperture radar, altimetry) sensors. This study employed satellite data, in tandem with in situ current and wind measurements, to track surface oil and to better understand the causes for observed large-scalemotions during the 84 day episode. The analysis revealed the merger of three cyclonic eddies along the Loop Current's (LC's) northern margin, ultimately forming a larger and more vigorous cyclonic eddy,measuring 280 × 130 km on 18 May. This larger cyclonic eddy, in tandem with a smaller anticyclonic eddy and a LC meander, controlled themotion of the oil/dispersantmixture into deepwater (maximum current speed of 2.25 m s -1), tripling the area ofsurface oiling from 9623 to 33,575 km2. Two main events limited the flow of oil to theFlorida Straits, the accumulation of oil within the merged eddy and the fact that this eddy did not move substantially for several months. The observed offshore entrainment of oil toward the LC was successfully hindcast using a particle-tracking model based on geostrophic currents computed from satellite altimetry. This assessment of circulation processes may help to advance numerical circulation modeling efforts in this region of rapid current variability in support of safer deepwater drilling in the northern Gulf.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMonitoring and Modeling the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
Subtitle of host publicationA Record-Breaking Enterprise
PublisherAmerican Geophysical Union
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9780875904856
StatePublished - 2011

Publication series

NameGeophysical Monograph Series

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics


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