Date of Award

Spring 2021

Project Type


Program or Major

Civil Engineering

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Nancy E. Kinner

Second Advisor

Thomas P. Ballestero

Third Advisor

Eshan Dave


Oil spilled into fresh or saline water can float, become submerged in the water column (i.e., submerged oil), or sink to the bottom (i.e., sunken oil). Once introduced to the environment, oil can negatively impact ecological and public health, and the economy. Non-floating oil spills pose unique challenges to responders including the complexity of trajectory modeling; the inability to detect, track and recover oil due to limited visibility; the lack of readily deployable response technology; and limited understanding of how bottom substrate dynamics influence its fate and behavior. This dissertation research determined that the driving factors used to predict sunken oil transport are the oil’s kinematic viscosity (v_o) and the median sediment size (d_50). The stages of oil transport were characterized based on v_o, and empirical relationships using v_o and d_50 were derived to predict the oil’s critical shear stress (CSS). For v_o< 2x104 cSt, thresholds of movement were defined as: (1) gravity dispersion, (2) rope formation, (3) ripple formation, and (4) break-apart/resuspension. For v_o > 6x104 cSt, the stages include: (1) type II erosions, and (2) bedload transport. Using the experimentally derived oil transport equations, a prototype sunken oil transport tool (SOTT) was developed to predict sunken oil transport in a current driven environment. In the event of a non-floating oil spill, responders can input the spilled oil’s characteristics (i.e., density, viscosity) and in-situ environmental conditions (e.g., water velocity, temperature, sediment type) to evaluate if oil will transport along the bottom, resuspend into the water column, or be buried by sediments.

Sunken Oil Catalogue_Final.pdf (94828 kB)
Sunken Oil Catalogue of Images