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Research by NJIT’s Michel Boufadel on the mechanics of oil dispersion following a spill was recently highlighted by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), a consortium that investigates the impacts of oil, dispersed oil and dispersants on the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico and coastal States.

GoMRI aims to better elucidate the dynamics of spill events, as well as their environmental impacts and public health implications, and to develop oil and gas detection, characterization and remediation technologies in order to improve spill mitigation strategies.

In a recent paper in Geophysical Research Letters, Boufadel, director of NJIT’s Center for Natural Resources Development and Protection, characterizes in unprecedented detail key aspects of the uncontrolled pipeline flow from the Deepwater Horizon. He suggests that the flow within the pipe could have been “churn,” whereby oil and gas tumble violently within the pipe in a manner fundamentally different from the bubbly flow commonly assumed for that release.

The findings have major implications for the amount of oil discharged and the droplet size distribution.The churn flow would have produced five times the energy loss in the pipe compared to bubbly flow, and its plume would have entrained 35 percent more water than that of the bubbly flow. The resulting oil droplet size distribution of churn flow is likely smaller than that of bubbly flow.

Consequently, he suggests, the oil discharge in Deepwater Horizon could have been overestimated by as much as 200 percent.

To read more on Boufadel’s research from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, visit gulfresearchinitiative.org/study-first-examine-oil-gas-tumbling-inside-pipe-affects-released-oil-estimations/.