Texas A&M-led GISR Consortium wraps up first year of research

Socolofsky , ScottThe Gulf Integrated Spill Research (GISR) Consortium, led by Texas A&M University faculty and funded by the BP/Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), just concluded its site visit by the GoMRI Research Board following a successful first year of research. 

GISR is a $14.4 million consortium led by Principal Investigator Piers Chapman from the Department of Oceanography and Chief Scientist Scott Socolofsky from the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering. GISR includes 10 institutions, 25 PIs and more than 40 postdocs and graduate students.

The GISR Consortium research portfolio is highly integrated, including:

  • A suite of numerical models that are all linked together over a wide range of scales from the diameter of a blowout well up to the full Gulf of Mexico; A set of carefully selected field experiments to uncover key unknowns on the dynamics of oil transport in the Gulf; and
  • A wide range of laboratory experiments focusing on droplet- and plume-scale dynamics of subsea blowouts.

Socolofsky’s role in GISR includes laboratory, numerical and field experiments on the dynamic behavior of oil and gas plumes from deep spills. This work provides initial conditions for oil and gas transport to larger-scale models. Socolofsky said the team expects to leave a significant legacy in the scientific literature.

The researchers have already produced publications in premier journals, including the Journal of Fluid Dynamics, JGR Oceans, and Environmental Science and Technology.

“We were very excited to communicate the up-to-the-minute progress of our consortium,” Socolofsky said, “which is yielding significant insight on transport processes in the deep Gulf of Mexico, effects of dispersants on oil, physics of oil transport, and includes some of the most sophisticated models for predicting currents and air/sea interaction in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We have already conducted several significant research cruises, including the first long-term deep tracer release to study mixing and transport in the deep Gulf of Mexico, where much of the spilled oil during the Deepwater Horizon accident flowed.”

Among his other industry- and federally supported research projects, Socolofsky is PI of a project funded by Chevron to conduct a risk analysis of subsea blowouts. Chevron leadership has recently identified Socolofsky’s project as having the greatest potential for positive impact among their current R&D programs. This project utilizes a numerical simulation model for deep spills that is also being integrated into the General NOAA Operational Modeling Environment (GNOME). 

A 2011 paper in Geophysical Research Letters by Socolofsky and collaborators was the first to explain the fluid dynamics that resulted in formation of the subsurface intrusion layers of dissolved oil and gas that were observed predominantly at 1,100 m depth by scores of scientists in the field at distances up to 100 km from the spill site.

Socolofsky began study on the dynamics of accidental subsea oil spills during his Ph.D. work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of the DeepSpill project supported by the former Minerals Management Service and a joint industry project of 23 oil companies. He and his collaborators E. Eric Adams from MIT and S. Masutani from the University of Hawaii were recognized in 2010 following the Deepwater Horizon accident by the Annals Improbable Research with the IgNoble Prize in Chemistry for “disproving the old adage that oil and water don’t mix.” 

Since then, Socolofsky has worked on a number of oil-spill prediction problems and collaborated on containment technology.  He recently gave a keynote lecture on the dynamics of the Deepwater Horizon accident at the “Research Perspectives on the Deepwater Horizon 2010 Spill: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” conference at Louisiana State University on the third Anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Some of his other invited seminars have been at Stanford University, Virginia Tech, the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg, NOAA, the American Petroleum Institute and the Society of Underwater Technology in Houston.