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NJIT researchers simulate the Deepwater Horizon Spill to benefit other researchers

The New Jersey Institute of Technology, a highly-ranked and multi-awarded research  institute in the United States, is spearheading the largest-ever simulation of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to determine more precisely where hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil have dispersed following the drilling rig’s explosion.

The simulation will be done in a 600-foot long saltwater wave tank on the coast of New Jersey. The team expects to come away from these experiments with insights they can apply to a variety of ocean-based oil releases. 

The experiment, which comes in phases, aims to provide definitive answers to the effects of oil spills on the environment and to share information with other researchers experimenting on similar scenarios.

According to NJIT’s Center for Natural Resources Director Michel Boufadel, “These experiments are the largest-ever conducted by a university in terms of the volume of oil released and the scale. The data we obtained, which has not been published yet, is being used by other researchers to calibrate their models.”

The initial phase of the experiment involved releasing several thousand gallons of oil from a one-inch pipe dragged along the bottom of the tank in order to reproduce ocean current conditions. “The facility at Ohmsett allows us to simulate as closely as possible the conditions at sea, and to thus observe how droplets of oil form and the direction and distance they travel,” notes Boufadel.

The team will be experimenting on the second phase of the study later this year. Boufadel and his team will be applying dispersants to the oil as it shoots into the tank “to observe its effects on droplet formation and trajectory.”

The experiment is being conducted at the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Ohmsett facility at Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey. The initial report, “The perplexing physics of oil dispersants,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).