Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Ali S. Rangwala, Advisor

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Tahar El-Korchi, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Morris Flynn, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Vasudevan Raghavan, Committee Member


Grunde Jomaas




The ice melting and lateral cavity formation caused by in situ burning (ISB) of liquid fuels in ice-infested waters was studied in order to improve predictions on the removal efficiency of this oil spill mitigation method. For this purpose, several experimental studies were conducted to increase the fundamental understanding of the mechanisms that lead to ice melting and lateral cavity formation. The findings of the experimental studies provided the required knowledge to mathematically formulate the ice melting problem. Mathematical scaling analysis of ice melting during burning of oils in the vicinity of ice was performed to create a tool to estimate the extent of melting that occurs during ISB in ice-infested waters. A series of lab-scale experiments were designed to systematically investigate the ice melting problem. The first set of experiments were conducted in cylindrical shaped ice cavities with a 5.7 cm diameter. Burning of n-octane from ignition to natural extinction and the subsequent geometry change of the ice, fuel thickness, and fuel temperature were measured. The preliminary experimental observations showed that the melting of the ice walls was higher in areas where the fuel layer was in contact with ice compared with places of flame exposure. Based on these observations, a hypothesis that suggested the convective flows in the liquid fuel (driven mainly by surface tension and buoyancy) were contributing in melting of the ice was proposed to explain the origins of the lateral cavity. To evaluate this hypothesis, two dimensionless numbers (Marangoni and Rayleigh) were calculated as the indicators of the mechanisms of convection in the fuel layer. The comparison between the melting speed and these dimensionless numbers indicated surface tension driven flow was dominant while the role of buoyancy was negligible. In another set of experiments, Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) was used to study the flow structure within the liquid-phase of n-octane pool fire bound on one side by an ice wall. Experiments were conducted in a square glass tray (9.6 cm × 9.6 cm × 5 cm) with a 3 cm thick ice wall placed on one side of the tray. Burning rate, flame height, and melting front velocity were measured to analyze the effect of heat feedback on melting of the ice. The melting rate of the ice increased from 0.6 cm/min for the first 50 seconds after ignition to 1 cm/min for the rest of burning period. Meanwhile, the measurement of the burning rates and flame heights showed two distinctive behaviors; a growth period from self-sustained ignition to the peak mass loss rate (first 50 seconds after ignition) followed by a steady phase from the peak of mass loss rate until the manual extinguishment. Similarly, the flow field measurements by a 2-dimensional PIV system indicated the existence of two different flow regimes. In the moments before ignition of the fuel, coupling of surface tension and buoyancy forces led to a combined one roll structure in the fuel. This was when a single large vortex was observed in the flow field. After ignition the flow field began transitioning toward an unstable flow regime (separated) with an increase in number of vortices around the ice wall. As the burning rate/flame height increased the velocity and evolving flow patterns enhanced the melting rate of the ice wall. Experimentally determined temperature contours showed that a hot zone with thickness of approximately 3 mm was present below the free surface, corresponding to the multi-roll location. The change in the flow field behavior was found to relate to the melting front velocity of ice. To further study the lateral cavity phenomena, a parametric experimental study on melting of ice adjacent to liquids exposed from above to various heat fluxes was conducted in order to understand the role of liquid properties in formation of cavities in ice. Multiple liquids with wide variety and range of thermophysical properties were used in order to identify the key influential properties on melting. The melting rate of the ice and penetration speed of the liquid in a transparent glass tray (70 mm × 70 mm × 45 mm) with a 20 mm thick ice wall (70 mm × 50 mm × 20 mm) was measured. The melting front velocities obtained from experiments were then compared to surface flow velocities of liquids obtained through a scaling analysis of the surface flow to elucidate the influence of the various thermophysical properties of the liquids on ice melting. The surface velocity of the liquids correlated well to the melting front velocities of the ice which showed a clear relationship between the flow velocity and melting front velocity. As the final step of this work, to extend the findings of the experimental studies conducted herein to larger sizes comparable to realistic situations in the Arctic, an order of magnitude scaling analysis was performed to obtain the extent of ice melting. The scaling considered the heat feedback from the flame to fuel surface, the convective heat transfers toward the ice, and the melting energy continuity of ice. The existing experimental data on the size of lateral cavity were also collected and were correlated to the results of the scaling analysis using a nonlinear regression fitting technique. The mathematical correlation that was obtained by the scaling analysis can be used to predict the size of the lateral cavity for a given fuel, pool fire diameter, and burning time. This correlation will provide a predictive tool to estimate the size of a potential lateral cavity formed during ISB of a given spill scenario. In general, the ability to predict the ice melting caused by burning of spilled oil in ice-infested waters is of great practical importance for assessment of the response outcome. This would assist with quantifying the geometry change of the burning medium which in turn will define oil burning rate and extinction condition. Knowledge of burning behavior and extinction condition indicate the burned volume which can directly be used to define the removal effectiveness of ISB. Nevertheless, this analysis was conducted on a generic interaction of oil and ice and the specific details that are observed in actual application of ISB in ice-infested waters were neglected for simplicity. Extending the outcome of this study to more specific (scenario-based) oil-in-ice situation and improving the predictability of the melting correlation with large-scale experiments are the next steps to develop this work.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Fire Protection Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





Arctic, ice melting, in-situ burning, Marangoni convection, oil spill, scaling