more top stories

Computer model predicts the spread of the BP oil spill after one year


July 8, 2010

The computer animation's prediction of the oil spill after 360 days - April 15 2011 (Image: IPRC/SOEST/UHM)

The computer animation's prediction of the oil spill after 360 days - April 15 2011 (Image: IPRC/SOEST/UHM)

Image Gallery (3 images)

With oil from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig continuing to spew into the Gulf of Mexico researchers from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa have produced an animated computer simulation that shows the potential spread of the oil over a period of 360 days from when the spill started. To calculate the particle dispersal the researchers used ocean flow data from simulations conducted with the high-resolution Ocean General Circulation Model for the Earth Simulator (OFES).

The animation shows the calculated surface particle concentrations for grid boxes measuring roughly 10km by 10km in size and assumes an estimated flow of oil from the Deepwater Horizon of 50,000 barrels per day over a 150-day period. The simulation also assumes the spill is successfully capped by September 17, 2010.

The researchers say the computed surface concentrations may be overestimated as it doesn’t capture such real world effects as oil coagulation, formulation of tar balls or chemical and microbial degradation. However, they point out that the animation is not a detailed, specific prediction, but rather a scenario that could help guide research and mitigation efforts.

The animation shows the oil initially spreading in the Gulf of Mexico before entering the Loop Current and the narrow Florida Current, and finally the Gulf Stream.

“After one year, about 20% of the particles initially released at the Deepwater Horizon location have been transported through the Straits of Florida and into the open Atlantic,” explains Axel Timmermann from the International Pacific Research Center (IPRC).

The animation suggests that the coastlines near the Carolinas, Georgia, and Northern Florida could see the effects of the oil spill as early as October 2010 and that the main branch of the subtropical gyre (a ringlike system of ocean currents that rotate clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere) is likely to transport the oil film towards Europe, although strongly diluted.

The animation also shows that the narrow, deep Straits of Florida force the Florida Current into a narrow channel and create a tight bottleneck for the spreading of the oil into the Atlantic. This suggests the narrowest spot of the Florida Current could be an ideal place for a filtering system to mitigate the spreading of the oil film into the North Atlantic.

The video can be viewed below.

Via treehugger

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

The good news is that more oil was released in that part of the north Atlantic by the sinking of all that WW2 shipping. The bad news is that nobody checked for environmental impacts. However most species known from that region were still around after wards in good numbers. Fisheries crashes happened later due to over fishing. They need to intercept the oil at the sea bed with very big pipes. I\'ll keep harping on about that until someone gets it!

Wesley Bruce

Here is just one more bit of BP\'s track record.

Facebook User

BP has a track record on cleaning up of their disasters. And it ain\'t good!


I wonder if BP will pay any penalties to other countries than the US?


This plot is not viable. I\'m a sailboat navigator in Fla who knows the winds, currents well.

While it will go in the Atlantic, it won\'t likely hit Fla other than the panhandle where it already is.

Why is the trade wind will blow it NW into La, Texas, Miss before Oct and any that might get in the Gulf stream with be in the middle of it, taking it past Fla at 4-5mph. More likely to hit SC to Maine than SE Fla or even ironically England/Europe, BP\'s home.

Sadly misinformation like this could kill our tourist season this winter.


This oil leak is a bad situation getting worse every day. Long term consequences are unknown but safe to say they will be bad.

Yet so many US politicians are opposed to importing oil from Canada\'s oil sands. They say it\'s the dirtiest oil around. Well the fact is that the CO2 from Canada\'s oil sands is about the same as conventional oil from the middle east when you factor in everything from discovery to final use.

Plus, Canada\'s oil is much much safer to produce than any off-shore oil anywhere.

(PS: Why don\'t US politicians & environmentalists complain about oil the US gets from Venezuela\'s oil sands? Venezuela does not have any rules like the strict environmental rules that Canada has.)


I like how everyone whines a bout the oil \"SPILL\".

As if that makes it some how better than burning it.

Mr Stiffy

BP is a terrorist organization the same as Al Qaeda and BP Corporate officers have committed a terrorist act against America by murdering Americans and destroying the Gulf of Mexico (in process). Simply declare BP a terrorist organization and send all company officers to Guantanamo for daily waterboarding until they confess (Bush & Cheney solution) then introduce them to Cuban firing squad. The patriot act would apply and all problems are solved.

Billy Hewitt

I have just created a computer model of the oil spill 1 million years from now. It covers the whole earth. We must act now to make a complete clean up. It will take the whole energy output of the sun for 6.2 million years to complete the cleanup. Since the human race will be extinct by that time I propose we devote the whole output of our scientific community in the direction of creating a sentient race of machines to complete the project. The project will be financed by a series of United States Treasury notes which will mature so long from now that we dont really care.


This information is terribly inaccurate. The statistics are set at a constant leak flow rate and a zero absorption rate as well as the clean up rate. The 360 day outlook couldn't be more wrong. It's almost upsetting that a study like this can get published and just have a disclaimer that says its not a detailed prediction but a possible scenario. It is not.

I want a new study showing a stopped flow rate, a small percentage per month cleanup rate, and a high percentage per month absorption rate due to the oil evaporating, dissipating, and being ingested by bacteria and other organisms.

The well was capped only weeks ago and already the oil slick is 75% smaller!

Shock value always sells faster than realistic statistics

Truth is oil loses much of its toxicity and is able to break up easier in the first few weeks of being exposed to the elements.

I agree with jerryd that misinformation like this could kill tourism

Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles