Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Appendix D: Use of wave scenarios to assess potential submerged oil mat (SOM) formation along the coast of Florida and Alabama

January 1, 2013

During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, oil in the surf zone mixed with sediment in the surf zone to form heavier-than-water sediment oil agglomerates of various size, ranging from small (cm-scale) pieces (surface residual balls, SRBs) to large mats (100-m scale, surface residue mats, SR mats). Once SR mats formed in the nearshore or in the intertidal zone, they may have become buried by sand moving onshore or alongshore. To assist in locating possible sites of buried oil, wave scenarios previously developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) were used to determine the depths at which surface oil had the potential to mix with suspended sediment. For sediment to mix with floating oil and form an agglomerate of sufficient density to sink to the seafloor, either the water must be very shallow (e.g., within the swash zone) or sediment must be suspended to the water surface in sufficient concentrations to create a denser-than-sea water agglomerate. The focus of this study is to analyze suspended sediment mixing with surface oil in depths beyond the swash zone, in order to define the seaward limit of mat formation. A theoretical investigation of sediment dynamics in the nearshore zone revealed that non-breaking waves do not suspend enough sediment to the surface to form sinking sand/oil agglomerates. For this study, it was assumed that the cross-shore distribution of potential agglomerate formation is associated with the primary breaker line, and the presence of plunging breakers, over the time frame of oiling. The potential locations of submerged oil mats (SOMs) are sites where (1) possible agglomerate formation occurred, where (2) sediment accreted post-oiling and buried the SOM, and where (3) the bathymetry has not subsequently eroded to re-expose any mat that may have formed at that site. To facilitate identification of these locations, the range of water level variation over the time frame of oiling was also prescribed, which combined with the wave-breaking depth analysis and pre-oiling bathymetry would identify the potential geographic locations of SOMs.

Publication Year 2013
Title Appendix D: Use of wave scenarios to assess potential submerged oil mat (SOM) formation along the coast of Florida and Alabama
Authors P. Soupy Dalyander, Joseph W. Long, Nathaniel G. Plant, David M. Thompson
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Series Title Operational Science Advisory Team Report
Series Number III
Index ID 70058704
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center