Tracking ocean pollution

It has been several years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico and scientists are still working to understand how oil and other pollutants move in the ocean. The incident, which occurred in April 2010, is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in history. 

The University of Delaware’s Helga Huntley is among more than 40 scientists studying this problem as a member of the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE). 

“In order to improve models and forecasts, ultimately for oil spill response, we have to get the chain of causation, or cause and effect, right,” said Huntley, an assistant research professor with the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment’s School of Marine Science and Policy.

In 2012, CARTHE scientists deployed 300 untethered buoys, called drifters, into the Gulf of Mexico to simulate an oil spill. The drifters reported their location every 5 minutes via satellite GPS as they floated along with surface currents, allowing researchers to compile maps of the devices’ paths. At the same time, the scientists took measurements about the ocean’s salinity and temperature. When combined, the data gave researchers a glimpse into what happens to material in the ocean.

As they analyzed the data, the scientists learned that small-scale ocean currents play a major role in the spread of pollutants at the ocean surface. They also realized that more information was needed to fully understand the physics driving this dispersion.

UDaily recently talked with Huntley about CARTHE’s latest field experiment, called LASER, conducted in January 2016.

>> Click here to read the Q&A about Hegla Huntley's work in the Gulf of Mexico

Featured Faculty

Helga Huntley

Helga Huntley picture

Associate Research Professor Physical Ocean Science and Engineering


CEOE School & Departments

School of Marine Science & Policy

Advancing the understanding, stewardship, and conservation of estuarine, coastal, and ocean environments.

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Department of Geological Sciences

Discovering how geological processes have operated over various time scales to create and influence the planet’s surface environments.

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Department of Geography

Investigating the interactions between people and the environment and the processes that explain the location of human and natural phenomena.

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College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment • 111 Robinson Hall • Newark, DE 19716 • USA • Phone: 302-831-2841
Geography: 302-831-2294 • Geology: 302-831-2569 • Marine Science and Policy: 302-645-4212 • E-mail:

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