Oil plumes and dispersion in Langmuir, upper-ocean turbulence: Large-eddy simulations and K-profile parameterization

Di Yang, Bicheng Chen, Marcelo Chamecki, Charles Meneveau

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37 Scopus citations


Once oil plumes such as those originating from underwater blowouts reach the ocean mixed layer (OML), their near-surface dispersion is influenced heavily by wind and wave-generated Langmuir turbulence. In this study, the complex oil spill dispersion process is modeled using large-eddy simulation (LES). The mean plume dispersion is characterized by performing statistical analysis of the resulting fields from the LES data. Although the instantaneous oil concentration exhibits high intermittency with complex spatial patterns such as Langmuir-induced striations, it is found that the time-averaged oil distribution can still be described quite well by smooth Gaussian-type plumes. LES results show that the competition between droplet rise velocity and vertical turbulent diffusion due to Langmuir turbulence is crucial in determining both the dilution rate and overall direction of transport of oil plumes in the OML. The smoothness of the mean plume makes it feasible to aim at modeling the oil dispersion using Reynolds-averaged type formulations, such as the K-profile parameterization (KPP) with sufficient vertical resolution to capture vertical profiles in the OML. Using LES data, we evaluate the eddy viscosity and eddy diffusivity following the KPP framework. We assess the performance of previous KPP models for pure shear turbulence and Langmuir turbulence by comparing them with the LES data. Based on the assessment a modified KPP model is proposed, which shows improved overall agreement with the LES results for both the eddy viscosity and the eddy diffusivity of the oil dispersion under a variety of flow conditions and droplet sizes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4729-4759
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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