Acoustic Observations in Support of the Response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Thomas Weber
Research Assistant Professor


Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010, 3:00pm
Chase 130

On April 20 of 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and led to an oil spill in which millions of barrels of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico. The rig was drilling in 1500 m of water, a depth which it made it difficult to assess the fate of oil released into the water. By mid-May, observations of subsurface oil plumes were reported, and later that month the first acoustic mission with the express goal of mapping subsurface oil was launched. Over the next several months, we used scientific echo sounders to map several natural methane gas seeps in the area, to directly observe oil in the upper ocean, to examine some of the effects of the oil plume on marine organisms, and to assess and monitor the integrity of the well after it was capped in mid-July. In this talk I will describe our summer in the Gulf: what it was like, what we found, and what we didn't find. I will also discuss the underlying theme of doing science (ocean exploration) on time scales where new knowledge is required in days (or sometimes hours) rather than years, and in which information gained (or not gained) can have stunning consequences.


Tom Weber received his Ph.D. in Acoustics at The Pennsylvania State University in 2006 and has B.S. (1997) and M.S. (2000) degrees in Ocean Engineering from the University of Rhode Island. He joined the Center in 2006.

His research interests are generally related to high frequency acoustics. Since arriving at the center his work has been focused on three different areas: the use of multibeam sonar for investigating the water column (fish, bubbles, kelp, and other scattering mechanisms); shallow water (harbor) acoustic tracking; and acoustic propagation through bubbles.