Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE)

Principal Investigator

A tale of two spills: A research consortium of 19 institutions from 5 countries studying the impacts of oil spills on the Gulf of Mexico.

The Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE) is a research consortium of 19 U.S. and international partners focused on effects of oil spills on marine environments.

Our HRI scientists are bringing their unique research expertise to this massive project: Dr. Wes Tunnell is a marine ecologist and an expert in implications of coastal oil spills on coastal ecosystems. In 1979-80 he tracked the evolution of the Ixtoc-I spill and subsequently spent much of his research career studying its impacts on coastal ecosystems in Mexico and the USA.  Dr. Paul Montagna researches the influence of benthic organisims on marine and coastal environments. Dr. Greg Stunz researches population studies pertaining to oil impacts on fish. Dr. David Yoskowitz is an ecosystem modeler whose research focuses on ecosystem services instrumental in determining the Gulf of Mexico's productive value.

C-IMAGE II: The Tale of Two Spills

The focus of C-IMAGE II is to advance understanding of the processes, mechanisms, and environmental consequences of marine oil blowouts. Centered on findings from C-IMAGE I, we look to incorporate laboratory experimentation, field-oriented assessments, and modeling to broaden our research fields.

New to the Center are three novel projects focused on establishing ecological baselines in the case of another Gulf spill. These projects include:

  1. Controlled exposure studies of adult fish assessing the chronic vs. episodic oil pollution uptake
  2. Predict the long-term fate and degradation of oil on Gulf ecosystems using sediment cores from parallel Gulf spills
  3. Establish fish and sediment baselines by conducting the first Gulf-wide assessment along the continental shelf.

Recent events like Deepwater Horizon focused the scientific efforts of C-IMAGE I, but C-IMAGE II looks to gain insight by researching a parallel blowout incident occurring 30 years prior.

The Ixtoc-I oil spill began on June 3rd, 1979 in the Bay of Campeche, 100 km NW of Ciudad de Carmen, Mexico. Nine and a half months later, the well head was capped and flow stopped, but not after an estimated 126 to 210 million gallons of oil leaked into the southern Gulf of Mexico; compare this to the three month uncontrolled blowout and 107 to 184 million gallons of Deepwater Horizon.

The interconnectedness of any marine ecosystem requires a collaborative effort with each of our consortium members. To remain focused on our goals, C-IMAGE II divides into six Tasks dedicated to their area of expertise and research interests:

  • Task 1: Near-field & far-field modeling
  • Task 2: High-pressure, low temperature environments
  • Task 3: The Distribution, Fate, Transport and Impacts of Oil Deposition Resulting from MOSSFA Processes During DWH and the IXTOC-I Discharges
  • Task 4: Hydrocarbon Impacts on Plankton, Invertebrates, Fishes and Marine Mammals
  • Task 5: Toxicology Studies
  • Task 6: Detailed and Spatially Resolved Ecosystem Modeling

The implementation of tasks integrates the research conducted under C-IMAGE, rather than creating a collection of unrelated studies, and is intended to achieve outcomes that are “more than the sum of the parts”. For example, high-pressure testing in the facility in Hamburg (Task 2), has as its goal providing estimates of droplet size distributions that are critical to near- and far-field models predicting hydrocarbon partitioning, and transportation in various blowout scenarios (Task 1). The six Tasks and proposed mechanisms to coordinate among them will thus function to assure integration among studies.


Beginning in 2011, C-IMAGE I received funding from GoMRI to study the processes and effects of the BP oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. With help from domestic and international partners, we began studying the physical, chemical, and biological processes occurring when oil and dispersants are introduced to a marine ecosystem. Our consortium began connecting researchers across disciplines and academic institutions to create a holistic view of marine environments during and after oil spills. Through high-pressure experiments, calibrated modeling, and field research, C-IMAGE I has laid a foundation for future research throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

Projects from C-IMAGE I included: ecosystem modeling based on biological, chemical, and physical data sets, marine resource assessments of ichthyoplankton, fish, and marine mammals, oil and dispersant toxicology, simulating high-pressure environments and their effects on fluids, and sediment analysis of oil-affected areas of the sea floor.