Review of recent studies on dispersed oil droplet distribution

William Lehr, Debra Simecek-Beatty, Alberto Aliseda, Michel Boufadel

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

7 Scopus citations


A key variable for spilled oil fate is the droplet size distribution (DSD) of any dispersed oil droplets. As the ratio of surface area to volume increases with decreasing droplet size, numerous processes including dissolution, biodegradation and vertical transport in the water column are impacted. For deep releases such as the Deepwater Horizon, dissolution becomes a major early natural removal mechanism, playing the role that evaporation normally fills for surface spills. The purpose of application of surfactants in spill cleanup is to reduce oil-water surface tension, causing increased numbers of smaller droplets and decreasing surface oil volume. Existing droplet size estimation used by most fate and behavior models are based upon field and laboratory studies done three decades ago. However, recent sets of experiments performed in Norway and the U.S. allow the improvement in estimation techniques. In addition, new techniques for modeling oil droplet formation allow for better accountability of the evolution of the droplet size distribution. The authors review these studies and suggest a new approach to droplet estimation. Because the end purpose of this research is to be part of the new NOAA response model, the dispersion estimation is designed to be possible using information likely to be either measurable or calculable during a spill emergency. This necessary information includes oil density, viscosity and surface tension, water density, and dissipation rate of turbulent energy. Not included in this new estimation technique is the impact of dissolved or entrained gas. The authors compare the new results with existing methods and also consider the cumulative impact on oil weathering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages8
StatePublished - 2014
Event37th AMOP Technical Seminar on Environmental Contamination and Response - Canmore, Canada
Duration: Jun 3 2014Jun 5 2014


Other37th AMOP Technical Seminar on Environmental Contamination and Response

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering


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