April 20, 2014, will mark the four-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, a Gulf of Mexico rig explosion that killed 11 workers and led to the nation’s worst offshore oil spill. Reporters writing an update on this event may wish to interview David Murphy, who is studying oil spills in a Whiting School of Engineering lab at Johns Hopkins.
As a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Murphy focuses on the behavior and fate of oil released from the ocean bottom as a high-flow-rate jet. In particular, he is investigating the combined effects of ocean currents and chemical treatment on dispersing oil. Learning about the physics of this process will help predict where the spilled oil goes and how much dispersant to apply in future oil well blowouts.
“We study what happens when oil is released into a natural environment, and we look at how that oil spreads out,” he said. “On a small scale, we replicate a blowout that happens on the bottom of the ocean and use high-speed video to look at plume behavior – how quickly it rises. The more small droplets we have, the easier it is for microorganisms to attack and break down the oil.”
Data gathered in these lab tests will be used to develop computer models that will help predict how oil will spread when future spills occur.
Murphy grew up in Alabama, near the coastal area affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill. He received a master’s in biology from Cambridge University and his PhD in civil and environmental engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.