This paper is a review of the major findings from laboratory studies and field trials conducted in Norway in recent years on the emulsification of oils spilled at sea. Controlled bench-scale and meso-scale basin experiments using a wide spectrum of oils have revealed that both the physico-chemical properties of the oils and the release conditions are fundamental determinants of the rate of emulsion formation, for the rheological properties of the emulsion formed and for the rate of natural dispersion at sea. During the last decade, several series of full-scale field trials with experimental releases of various crude oils have been undertaken in the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea. These have involved both sea surface releases, underwater pipeline leak simulations (release of oil under low pressure and no gas) and underwater blowout simulations (pressurized oil with gas) from 100 and 850 m depth. The field trials have been performed in co-operation with NOFO (Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies), individual oil companies, the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (SIFT) and Minerals Management Services (MMS). SINTEF has been responsible for the scientific design and monitoring during these field experiments. The main objectives of the trials have been to study the behaviour of different crude oils spilled under various conditions and to identify the operational and logistical factors associated with different countermeasure techniques. The paper gives examples of data obtained on the emulsification of spilled oil during these field experiments. The empirical data generated from the experimental field trials have been invaluable for the validation and development of numerical models at SINTEF for predicting the spreading, weathering and behaviour of oil released under various conditions. These models are extensively used in contingency planning and contingency analysis of spill scenarios and as operational tools during spill situations and combat operations. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.