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Lines represent climatologically persistent sea-surface trajectories that attract nearby trajectories. Red means increased attraction strength while white means negligible attraction, which in turn implies isolation or stagnation. These lines tend to organize transport at the sea surface.
NETL Offshore Research Innovation Featured in Prestigious Nature Publication, Scientific Reports

NETL has been at the forefront of research to make offshore energy production safer and more efficient ever since the Lab helped assess the Macondo Oil Spill in 2010. Now, a component of that expertise is front and center in a new article appearing March 26 in the prestigious journal Scientific Reports, released by Nature Publishing Group. 

The article, entitled “Extracting Quasi-Steady Langrangian Transport Patterns from the Ocean Circulation: An Application to the Gulf of Mexico,” describes an advanced new metocean modeling tool and approach for extracting likely patterns in ocean circulation.

Metocean refers to a geographic location’s combined oceanographic and metereological conditions, such as ocean currents, sea-level changes, storm surges, tides, wind waves, stratification, ice, wind, air temperature, humidity and the occurrence and strength of typhoons and hurricanes.

These predictions can help guide offshore infrastructure design, reduce operational costs, and provide critical data for assessing offshore oil spill modeling risks.

The work is a culmination of advanced oceanographic data science research that has its roots in NETL’s Offshore Risk Modeling (ORM) suite of tools, data and models - a big-data driven system designed to identify knowledge and technology gaps that target offshore spill prevention. The ORM suite can be used to analyze conditions from subsurface to the shore. The system was developed incorporating lessons-learned from previous deleterious events and connects users with tools and datasets driven by advanced computing technologies to address a variety of industry challenges. The ORM suite enables users to characterize and map geologic hazards, optimize planning and maintenance of offshore infrastructure, and improve safety and reliability among other benefits.

The component of NETL’s ORM featured in Scientific Reports is a tool that extracts important trajectory information from large ocean-current data sets, a problem that had been previously intractable. Created to aid planning for environmental-pollution response and prevention, the tool provides information on patterns at the sea surface and identifies regions with higher risk of contamination. This tool can also be incorporated with other data and tools in the broader ORM system to support multi-system analyses, such as interactions between the metocean system and offshore infrastructure.

Lead author Rodrigo Duran, Ph.D. candidate, explained the findings have important implications for mitigating and even preventing future contaminant incidents, such as oil spills. 

“Maps generated using our new tool can be used to identify regions at high risk of being visited by contaminants, depending on the location of a pollution source,” Duran said. “This information will aid those planning for environmental-pollution prevention and response.”

He added that, compared to similar approaches, the new method provides more information by rapidly and clearly depicting likely pathways – valuable information that assists with oil-spill forecasts. In addition, insights derived from this new method may also help offshore industries with planning, identifying potential cost savings and guiding operational choices for a range of needs in our ocean systems.

The effort represents innovative successes in NETL’s mission to discover, integrate, and mature technology solutions to enhance the nation’s energy foundation and protect the environment for future generations. The Lab’s work is helping home-grown energy power the nation’s prosperity while supporting responsible stewardship of the environment.

Research conducted through NETL’s Offshore Research portfolio is focused on developing a scientific base for reducing and quantifying potential risks associated with exploration and production in offshore environments.