Faculty Advisor

Ali Rangwala

Faculty Advisor

Albert Simeoni

Faculty Advisor

Xiaochuan Shi

Faculty Advisor

Kathy A. Notarianni




In situ burning (ISB) is a practical method of oil spill cleanup in icy conditions. This study investigates one example of a likely oil spill scenario; burning oil in an ice cavity. In this situation, unique and unexplored physical processes come into play compared with the classical problem of confined pool fires in vessels. The icy walls of the cavity create a significant heat sink causing notable lateral heat losses especially for small cavity sizes (5-10 cm). Melting of ice because of the heat from the flame causes the geometry of cavity to change. Specifically, the diameter of the pool fire increases as the burning advances. This widening causes the fuel to stretch laterally thereby reducing its thickness at a faster rate. The melted ice water causes the oil layer to rise which causes the ullage height to decrease. The decrease in ullage and increase in diameter counteract the reduction in thickness because of widening or stretching of the fuel layer. There thus exists a strong coupling between the burning rate and the geometry change of the pool and cavity. To explore the problem, experiments were performed in circular ice cavities of varying diameters (5 - 25 cm). The change in shape of the ice cavity and the oil layer thickness are recorded using a combination of visual images, mass loss, and temperature data along the centerline and edge of the cavity. The average burning rate of crude oil in a cavity is greater than the corresponding burning rate in a vessel of equal diameter, yet the burning efficiency (% of fuel consumed during combustion) is lower. For example, the average mass loss rate in a 10 cm ice cavity is 50% higher than a steel vessel of similar size. However, the burning efficiency is lower by 50%. Widening of cavity (170%) contributes to the increase in the average mass burning rate. At the same time heat losses through fuel layer increase because of decrease in fuel thickness by widening of the fuel layer. This coupling is analyzed using a mathematical model which can predict burning rate and efficiency of crude oil in an ice cavity for the range of cavity diameters examined. Extension of the model to larger sizes comparable to realistic situations in the Arctic is discussed.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Fire Protection Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





Crude oil, mass loss rate, cavity, ice, efficiency