The researchers also determined the fate of most of those gas and oil compounds using atmospheric chemistry data collected from aircraft last June. They say their new methods could be applied to future oil spills, whether in shallow or deep water.
The new analysis has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.
"We present a new method for understanding the fate of most of the spilled gases and oil," says Tom Ryerson, lead author of the report, from NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.
Knowing where the spilled gas and oil mixture ended up could also help resource managers and others trying to understand environmental exposure levels.
Using the atmospheric measurements and information about the chemical makeup of the leaking reservoir fluid, Ryerson and his colleagues calculate that at least 32,600 to 47,700 barrels of liquid gases and oil poured out of the breached reservoir on June 10, 2010.
This range, determined independently of previous estimates, presents a lower limit.
"Although we accounted for gases that dissolved before reaching the surface, our atmospheric data are essentially blind to gases and oil that remain trapped deep underwater," Ryerson says. Comparison of the new result with official estimates is not possible because this airborne study could not measure that trapped material.Not including that trapped material, atmospheric measurements combined with reservoir composition information show that about one- third (by mass) of the oil and gas dissolved into the water column on its way to the surface. The team found another 14 percent by mass, or about 258 metric tons per day (570,000 lbs, per day), was lost quickly to the atmosphere within a few hours after surfacing, and an additional 10 percent was lost to the atmosphere over the course of the next 24 to
Among the study's other key findings:* Some compounds evaporated essentially completely
Ryerson and his colleagues conclude that the technique they developed could be applied to future oil spills, in shallow or deep water. The research flights, conducted at a minimum of 60 meters altitude (200 feet) above the Gulf surface, were possible because a NOAA WP-3D research aircraft had already been outfitted with sensitive chemistry equipment for deployment to California for an air quality and climate study and was redeployed to the Gulf.Title:
Schwarz, J. Ryan Spackman, Harald Stark, Carsten Warneke, and Laurel A. Watts: Chemical Sciences Division, NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado, USA, and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA;
Elliot L. Atlas: Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Miami, Florida, USA;
Donald R. Blake and Simone Meinardi: Department of Chemistry, University of California, Irvine, California, USA;
Richard A. Lueb: Atmospheric Chemistry Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, USA.Contact information for authors:
Peter Weiss | American Geophysical Union
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