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Collaborative Research Initiative Receives $14.4M to Study Gulf Oil Spills

School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Thorsten Stoesser is part of a project team that was recently awarded a $14.4 million grant, Gulf Integrated Spill Response, to Dr. Thorsten Stoesserinvestigate the transport and eventual fate of petroleum fluids that have erupted at depth.

The research board of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative announced the award on Aug. 30. Texas A&M University researchers in the colleges of Geosciences and Engineering are the lead investigators on this project, working with ten researchers representing the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Texas at Austin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, North Carolina State University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Hawaii, and University of Maryland.

Piers Chapman, department head in oceanography at Texas A&M and lead investigator for the project, says the grant will help industry, government, and decision makers better understand and predict how fluids behave in the deep ocean environment. “The problems start at the wellhead,” he says. “Deepwater Horizon was one of the deepest wells ever drilled, and the first to have a blow-out at this depth. No one knew how the petroleum that escaped into the Gulf of Mexico would behave.”

Industry trends are to drill in increasingly deeper waters. In fact, this type of extreme drilling is becomming the norm, according to Chapman. The BP well was drilled 6.6 miles beneath the seafloor in nearly a mile of water.

Dr. Stoesser specializes in computational fluid dynamics, open-channel hydraulics, and environmental fluid mechanics. Over the three-year period of the grant, he and the team of researchers will first develop an integrated, multi-scale modeling systems to characterize petroleum-fluid behavior from droplet formation to dispersal throughout the Gulf of Mexico. The second stage is to test the systems in the field to validate the models.

The specialized team, known as the Gulf Integrated Spill Response Consortium (GISR), is developing nested numerical models that are linked to a multi-faceted observation system to facilitate observation, prediction, and the decision-making sequence during a spill. Through this effort, GISR will address how oil and gas from such spills are transported and how these compounds evolve over time and space within the ocean and coastal environments. Each brings technical know-how, scientific knowledge, and experience working in the Gulf to improve response, forcasting, and risk assessment of future drilling.

BP established the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative as an independent body to administer the company’s 10-year, $500 million commitment to independent research into the Deepwater Horizon incident. This is the second round of funding competitive grants for the initiative. The research board granted $1.5 million to 17 universities in June.