Pathways of oil spills from potential cuban offshore exploration: Influence of ocean circulation

Yannis Androulidakis, Vassiliki Kourafalou, Lars Robert Hole, Matthieu Le Hénaff, Hee Sook Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The DeepWater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) in 2010 raised the public awareness on potential spills from offshore exploration activities. It became apparent that knowledge of potential oil pathways in the case of a spill is important for preparedness and response. This study focuses on such scenarios from potential oil spills in the Cuban Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a vast area in the GoM and the Straits of Florida that has not received much attention in oil spill studies, even though this region has been under evaluation for oil exploration. The Cuban EEZ is also in the crossroads of heavy tanker traffic, from the areas of intense oil exploration in the Northern GoM to the adjacent Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The study also evaluates how the oil transport and fate are influenced by the main circulation patterns of the GoM, such as the Loop Current (LC) system and the mesoscale dynamics inside the Straits of Florida, such as the Florida Current (FC) and the accompanying cyclonic (along the northern Straits) and anticyclonic (along the Cuban coasts) eddies. We used oil spill numerical simulations, in tandem with high resolution data-assimilative ocean simulations, to test the fate of potential oil spills originating from different release sites within the Cuban EEZ during a six-year period (2011-2016) to exhibit certain aspects of interannual variability of ocean dynamics. The LC extended and retracted phases in the GoM interior revealed different impacts on the oil fate depending on the release site. The meandering of the FC, which is strongly related to the mesoscale eddies that evolve inside the Straits of Florida, controlled oil pathways either towards the northern Straits or along the Cuban coast. The most likely scenario for oil stranding at southern Florida is from oil released at the deep central Straits of Florida. Oil release near the Yucatan Strait and in the deep Gulf interior showed the highest risk of overall oil beaching at the Gulf beaches. The regional (e.g., LC) and local (e.g., eddies in the Straits) dynamics are proven to be significant indicators to predict the oil fate and stranding along the Gulf coasts, which should lead to improving planning and preparedness in the case of a spill in the Cuban EEZ.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number535
JournalJournal of Marine Science and Engineering
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Cuba
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Hybrid coordinate ocean model (HYCOM)
  • Oil spill modeling
  • OpenDrift

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ocean Engineering


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