(sometimes shear dispersion) refers to a specific mixing process resulting from the combination of shear in the mean velocity coupled with turbulent mixing (or other transport mechanism) in the direction of the shear. This process will be discussed in Chapter 4 and will be denoted as hydrodynamic dispersion to avoid confusion.

The following sections address dispersant chemistry, the physical and chemical interactions of dispersants with oil slicks and droplets, oil chemistry and weathering behavior and how they affect the window of opportunity for effective dispersant applications, and the importance of turbulence for introducing the energy necessary to entrain oil droplets into the water column as well as their subsequent transport by dispersive and advective processes. Next is a discussion of effectiveness testing and related issues, including laboratory systems, wave-tank tests, field studies, and studies involving spills of opportunity. Several of these topics are only considered briefly because there are a number of excellent reviews that consider the mechanisms of dispersant action and laboratory and field testing of dispersant performance (e.g., Meeks, 1981; Rewick et al., 1981; Mackay et al., 1984; Nichols and Parker, 1985; NRC, 1989; Clayton et al., 1993; Trudel, 1998; Etkin, 1999). Topics for which there are still major uncertainties or where data gaps exist are considered in greater detail, along with explicit findings and recommendations for areas requiring additional research.


A typical commercial dispersant is a mixture of three types of chemicals: solvents, additives, and most importantly, surface-active agents (i.e., surfactants). Solvents are added primarily to promote the dissolution of surfactants and additives into a homogeneous dispersant mixture. In addition to keeping the surfactants in solution, these solvents reduce the product’s viscosity and affect the dispersant’s solubility in oil. Also, solvents determine to what extent the dispersant may be premixed with water for some spraying applications. Because aqueous-based solvent systems freeze in spray nozzles at ambient temperatures below 0° C (roughly 32° F) their usefulness is often limited in arctic or subarctic environments. Additives may be present for a number of purposes, such as improving the dissolution of the surfactants into an oil slick and increasing the long-term stability of the dispersant formulation.

Surfactants are compounds containing both oil-compatible (i.e., lipophilic or hydrophobic) and water-compatible (i.e., hydrophilic) groups. Because of this amphiphatic nature (i.e., opposing solubility tendencies), the surfactant molecules will reside at the oil-water interface as shown in

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement