Measuring oil residence time with GPS-drifters, satellites, and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

Oscar Garcia-Pineda, Yannis Androulidakis, Matthieu Le Hénaff, Villy Kourafalou, Lars R. Hole, Hee Sook Kang, Gordon Staples, Ellen Ramirez, Lisa DiPinto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


As oil production worldwide continues to increase, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico, marine oil spill preparedness relies on deeper understanding of surface oil spill transport science. This paper describes experiments carried out on a chronic release of crude oil and aims to understand the residence time of oil slicks using a combination of remote sensing platforms and GPS tracked drifters. From April 2017 to August 2018, we performed multiple synchronized deployments of drogued and un-drogued drifters to monitor the life time (residence time) of the surface oil slicks originated from the MC20 spill site, located close to the Mississippi Delta. The hydrodynamic design of the two types of drifters allowed us to compare their performance differences. We found the un-drogued drifter to be more appropriate to measure the speed of oil transport. Drifter deployments under various wind conditions show that stronger winds lead to reduce the length of the slick, presumably because of an increase in the evaporation rate and entrainment of oil in the water produced by wave action. We have calculated the residence time of oil slicks at MC20 site to be between 4 and 28 h, with average wind amplitude between 3.8 and 8.8 m/s. These results demonstrate an inverse linear relationship between wind strength and residence time of the oil, and the average residence time of the oil from MC20 is 14.9 h.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110644
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • Drifters
  • Satellite remote sensing
  • UAS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Pollution


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