Faculty Advisor

Ali S. Rangwala

Faculty Advisor

Raghavan Vasudevan


Several Arctic council reports conclude that oil spills are the most significant threat to the Arctic ecosystem. Some studies have shown that in-situ burning (ISB) of oil spills over water can remove more than 90% of the oil, and is the most promising technology for an efficient response to oil spills in the Arctic region. The definition of "In situ" is intentional, controlled burning of oil in place (i.e., without extracting or removing the oil first). Earlier studies [Bellino (WPI 2012), Farahani, (WPI 2014)] have investigated burning behavior of crude oil on ice, similar to what one would expect in sea-ice or bare lake ice conditions. The focus of the current study is to investigate the burning behavior of crude oil in snow, similar to oil spills in snow-covered land, or in snow covered sea ice in the Arctic. Understandably, due to the difference in packing density between ice/water and snow, the parameters that influence burning behavior of oil in snow are different compared to burning oil in the sea or ice conditions. The current experimental study shows that the snow behaves as a porous medium, and depending on the porosity and volume of the oil spill, two extreme behaviors are exhibited. In the case of an oil spill on snow with low porosity, the oil sinks easily to the bottom, and the burning involves, significant thermo capillary effects enabling the oil to rise up and burn. On the other hand, if the snow is less porous, most of the oil layer remains on the surface, approaching the case of an ice bed. However, the melting of snow due to flame heat flux causes a circulating flow pattern of the oil, whereby the hot layer at the surface moves down and comes back up due to capillary action. These processes, which have not been observed in the earlier studies, are physically explained in this study. The implications to overall efficiency of the burning process, which represents the amount of crude oil left in the snow after the burning process is discussed. The results will ultimately improve the strategies and the net environmental benefit of, and by it the success of, oil clean-up after an accidental spill on snow.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Fire Protection Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





in situ burning, pool diameter, oil to snow ratio, oil spill, snow porosity