Past Awards

FY 2021 | 2 – Respond | 21-10-07

Oil Thickness Exercise

Nancy E. Kinner, University of NH
Contract Term: 04/01/21-03/31/22
Award: $52,000

Project Summary:
In partnership with NOAA Office of Response & Restoration (OR&R), Canada’s MPRI, OSRI
and other federal agencies, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Coastal Response Research Center (CRRC)/Center for Spills and Environmental Hazards (CSE) will design and conduct experiments to create a protocol and test plan for conducting controlled oil slick thickness validation experiments in a controlled environment. The tests will be conducted in the CRRC oil spill highbay using stainless steel tanks. The extent of the slicks will be determined by using a specialized camera provided by Johns Hopkins University and an interferometer.

Project Description: The Canada Oceans Protection Plan’s Multi-Partner Oil Spill Research Initiative (MPRI) is funding OR&R in conjunction with its partner CRRC/CSE to conduct a project on “Coordinating Recent Advances in Estimating and Measuring Oil Slick Thickness” (CAMPRI). The project is being conducted in three phases: workshop, small tank testing, large tank testing with the overall goals being:

1) Bring together an international team of experts who are currently working largely
independently to advance the collective ability to determine oil slick thickness and
overall oil slick characterization. This allows for researchers to benefit from work
conducted to date, understand and compare challenges, successes and build on research
completed to date, and to identify research gaps and develop plans to address these gaps.

2) Move beyond discussions of methods strengths and weaknesses with a series of
controlled experiments at the Oil Spill Response Research and Renewable Energy Test
facility in Leonardo New Jersey (the OHMSETT facility) to actually measure and
compare various techniques for characterizing oil thickness.

3) Based on controlled experimental at OHMSETT, field test various methods to determine
field readiness levels and performance beyond a more controlled environment, and into
an environment more likely to be encountered during a real incident.
The project tasks involve designing and conducting baseline experiments to measure and
compare various available technologies for characterizing oil thickness. Ultimately, these tests
are being developed to conduct testing and evaluation of multiple oil spill thickness sensors and samplers that can estimate or directly measure floating oil thickness at the Ohmsett test tank (Red Bank, NJ).

Since an initial workshop held at Ohmsett in November 2019, the project team (CRRC/CSE,
NOAA OR&R, BSEE, USEPA, OSRI) has conducted a series of weekly planning meetings.
This project team is comprised of oil experts and statisticians representing a range of spill
response- and assessment-related interests. The planning includes developing protocols for
conducting statistically robust, reproducible ‘side-by-side’ controlled tests with different oil
thickness categories that are ‘thickness blind’ to the technology operators. Based on inputs from the project team, and on the previous year’s workshop findings, the team is developing plans for controlled testing of surface oil thickness using multiple sensors and samplers to be conducted at the Ohmsett test facility.

It was originally envisioned that testing at Ohmsett would only occur in the large outdoor tank at the facility. However, the project team recognized that the crux of understanding and evaluating these technologies was achieving uniform surface oil thicknesses. Therefore, there was a need to conduct the experiments in a smaller, more controlled setting than the larger outdoor Ohmsett tank (where almost always the surface oil distribution is usually patchy and uneven), and less suitable for the intended controlled comparative measurements.
CRRC/CSE’s oil test facility at UNH has begun conducting experiments to develop oil thickness protocols, focusing on refining that will be used in future planned comparative oil slick thickness ‘side by side’ tests with multiple technologies. These experiments involve testing in small experimental chambers or containers (e.g., small stainless-steel tanks) in order to minimize surface oil thickness variability and patchiness.

These ‘pre-tests’ are designed to develop methods that will be used in the larger scale multitechnology experiments. Their primary focus is developing protocols to create reproducible uniform surface oil slicks that are continuous (i.e., minimal patchiness) and evenly spread (uniform thickness across the surface). The pre-tests involve evaluation of various factors that enhance or impede uniform surface oil spreading. Tests to date have been conducted in experimental containers of different sizes and materials composition, with multiple oil types, and include fresh and emulsified oil with a wide range of nominal oil thicknesses in fresh and saline water from different sources using different methods for adding and estimating the degree of oil spreading.

The testing summary spreadsheet will be updated to capture all new data and findings of the
various testing combinations, including factors that affect uniform surface oil spreading for
consideration in future testing scenarios. The experiments will include testing different degrees
of emulsification and weathering, lighting and water quality conditions, and oil delivery methods that will be summarized in the spreadsheet.

These protocols will eventually be used during the ‘side-by-side’ controlled tests to be conducted at the Ohmsett facility in the final Phase of this project. It is anticipated that these protocols could be used by others for future research on this and related topics.
Important outcomes from these pre-test experiments include significant advances in our ability to create and maintain uniform, consistent, and repeatable surface oil sheens in mesocosm-size tanks that can be used for oil slick tests involving remote sensing and in situ surface oil tools and technologies for characterizing surface oiling in future projects. Achieving repeatable contiguous surface oil spreading in the experimental tanks will be a significant milestone. Developing this ‘gold standard’ for oil spill testing of various sensors and samplers will advance our collective understanding of the benefits and limitations of the various methods for characterizing surface oil thickness and will benefit many other types of oil spill evaluations.

These tests must be designed to accommodate space, lighting, reflectance, safety, and other
conditions of the technologies being tested.