Environmental Fluid Mechanics

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 959–973 | Cite as

Effects of droplet size on intrusion of sub-surface oil spills

  • Godine Kok Yan Chan
  • Aaron C. Chow
  • E. Eric Adams
Original Article


This paper explores the effects of droplet size on droplet intrusion and subsequent transport in sub-surface oil spills. In an inverted laboratory set-up, negatively buoyant glass beads were released continuously into a quiescent linearly stratified ambient to simulate buoyant oil droplets in a rising multiphase plume. Settled particles collected from the bottom of the tank exhibited a radial Gaussian distribution, consistent with their having been vertically well mixed in the intrusion layer, and a spatial variance that increased monotonically with decreasing particle size. A new typology was proposed to describe plume structure based on the normalized particle slip velocity \(U_{N} =u_s /(BN)^{1/4}\), where \(u_s \) is the particle slip velocity, \(B\) is the plume’s kinematic buoyancy flux, and \(N\) is the ambient stratification frequency. For \(U_N \le 1.4\) particles detrain from the plume, but only those with smaller slip velocity \((U_N \le 0.3)\) intrude. An analytical model assuming well-mixed particle distributions within the intrusion layer was derived to predict the standard deviation of the particle distribution, \(\sigma _r =\sqrt{\frac{0.9-0.38(U_N )^{0.24}}{\pi }}\frac{B^{3/8}}{N^{5/8}u_s ^{1/2}}\) and predictions were found to agree well with experimental values of \(\sigma _{r}\). Experiments with beads of multiple sizes also suggested that the interaction between two particle groups had minimal effect on their radial particle spread. Because chemical dispersants have been used to reduce oil droplet size, this study contributes to one measure of dispersant effectiveness. Results are illustrated using conditions taken from the ‘Deep Spill’ field experiment and the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


Oil spill Multiphase plume Chemical dispersant  Intrusion layer  Droplet size Stratification 



This research was made possible by grants from Chevron Energy Technology Co., through the Chevron-MITEI University Partnership Program, and BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, GISR. In addition Godine Chan received support through the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Scott Socolofsky and Mengran Du of Texas A & M provided useful insights regarding intrusion dynamics.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Godine Kok Yan Chan
    • 1
  • Aaron C. Chow
    • 2
  • E. Eric Adams
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Mechanical EngineeringMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Berkeley Research GroupLLCWalthamUSA
  3. 3.Department of Civil and Mechanical EngineeringMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

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