Scientists simulated an underwater blowout to analyze the formation, path, and duration of oil plumes. They noted that the simulated blowout formed two plumes, one due to momentum and plume buoyancy and another due to the buoyancy of individual oil droplets separating from the first plume.
They also observed that oil plumes form through a two-step process: first, relatively large ligaments of connected oil develop a few inches from the release point in a process called the “primary breakup” and are then entrained back into the plume for their “secondary breakup” into droplets. They
There have been two large scale oil spills over the past 4 decades in the Gulf of Mexico. The Ixtoc I spill in 1979 off the coast of Carmen, Mexico released 3.5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf, and the Macondo wellhead blowout off the coast of Louisiana, USA in 2010 released 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. Both of these incidents resulted in scientists coming together to gather the data needed to understand the fate of the oil, the disturbances it caused to the ecosystem, and its impacts on humans. One of the largest drivers of research efforts surrounding the 2010
Scientists from the University of Texas at Austin assessed photooxidation and biodegradation rates on different hydrocarbon groups.
They found that photooxidation was the main driver for degrading aromatic hydrocarbons, and biodegradation was the key process controlling the degradation of saturated hydrocarbons (alkanes). Exposure to sunlight, however, inhibited the biodegradation of the branched alkanes, pristane and phytane.The researchers published their findings in the April 2015 Marine Pollution Bulletin: