Fascinating animation via the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida based on West Florida Shelf ROMS:


click for interactive graphic

Hat tip Steve W

Category: Energy, Science

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

29 Responses to “Oil Spill Trajectory Hindcast/Forecast”

  1. herewegoagain says:

    A fine bit of graphic illustration. The first hurricane will add an interesting variable. Is it too early to suggest names? How about Hurricane Ayn for the “let’s turn everything over to the private sector” crowd?

  2. changja says:

    A has already been used for Agatha this season. Signs are pointing towards this Hurricane season being a bad one… Here goes nothing.

  3. JustinTheSkeptic says:

    Cool stuff…beautiful beaches over on the Alabama/Florida coasts…not so much the case in Mississippi, but then again, I’m not a frog or snake, or turtle, etc…

  4. adamsvictor says:

    to “herewegoagain””:

    George Washington said it best: “Government, like fire, is a good servant, but a fearful master”. Our Government is happily getting the lion’s share of every $ we pay at the pump, look it up, without taking any risks; when accidents happen (human error compounded by equipment failure), people like you immediately find an excuse to belittle the private sector, which is THE sector of our economy that produces value, enabling our Government to function; so, don’t forget, Government ought to be a good servant,,,,

  5. herewegoagain says:

    Thanks changja. Yes, signs seem to be pointing towards a bad season… CSU is predicting 15 named storms. (Hurricane Ben anyone?) If you ascribe to BR’s “buy what you hate” strategy, I suspect the “hate quotient” may spike after the first big one blows through.

  6. john6pack says:

    Only a tiny number of parcels entrained by the Loop current. That happens, and hello Miami Beach. Or maybe it’s the best thing that could happen: Loop Current > Florida Current > Gulf Stream > diffuse across the North Atlantic? Either way, looks like the Loop Current will have to retroflect much higher to the north to entrain a significant amount of the spill to carry it away. It’s possible.

  7. rktbrkr says:

    Bubble, bubble, toil & trouble…
    June 10 (Bloomberg) — China’s property prices rose at the second-fastest pace on record in May, showing little sign yet that the government crackdown on speculation will work to avert an asset-price bubble.

    The 12.4 percent gain compared with a record 12.8 percent increase in April from a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement its website. The data series, covering 70 cities, began in 2005. The value of sales slid 25 percent.

    “So far the property tightening measures are mainly cooling transactions” rather than prices, said Xiong Peng, a Shanghai-based analyst at Bank of Communications Co., the nation’s fourth-largest lender by market value. “A property tax is the other shoe that has yet to drop.”

  8. Marcus Aurelius says:


    Our government (that is, the People) SHOULD get the lion’s share of revenue from any oil that is pumped from our own reserves (regardless of where those reserves are located). Why should we pay anyone to remove our resources, develop them, and then sell them back to us at an obscene profit (and I’m not suggesting no profit)? You write as if these men are self-made, and not the beneficiaries of Corporatist crony capitalism.

  9. RadioFlyer says:

    I’d be willing to bet anyone here that there’s no way you’ll ever see any significant oil (from the Deepwater Horizon spill) on Miami Beach, the Outer Banks, the Hamptons, Nantucket, or anywhere else on the East Coast.

    I’m sure I’ll get flamed hard for this…it makes for great ratings – but this whole oil spill thing seems way overblown to me. I am by no means trying to defend BP or the government’s actions pre- or post-spill, and certainly think this is a very serious event…but 99% of the media and people you speak with make this out to be the end of the world as we know it.

    The fact is, even though Tony Hayward was a moron for making this argument so callously in public, the amount of oil that has spilled – and will eventually spill in total – is absolutely miniscule in relation to the size of the Gulf, let alone the Atlantic Ocean. If the Gulf of Mexico were represented by an olympic-size swimming pool, how much oil would you say has spilled into the Gulf to date?

    A) A bathtub?
    B) A gallon jug?
    C) A soda can?
    D) A teaspoon?
    E) None of the above.

    The correct answer is E. It’s actually less than the amount of oil you would get if you dipped the tip of the teaspoon in oil, and tossed it in the pool…even if you assume 10X the current estimate of about 20,000 barrels a day.

    Or put another way – for every gallon of oil that has spilled in to the Gulf so far, there are well over 10 Billion gallons of seawater. That’s 1 to 1,000,000,000. Granted, it isn’t evenly dispersed – but that’s what dispersants are for.

    Is the spill unfortunate? Absolutely. Will it seriously impact a lot of people and flora and fauna, and be a heck of a mess to clean up? Yep. But at the end of the day, there’s plenty of money/resources to mitigate (which the federal government is completely bungling thus far) further damage and remediate when it’s over. Life will go on just fine.

    (Some hockey game, huh?)

  10. RadioFlyer says:

    Typo – I was distracted by Doc Emrick. I should have wrote 1 Billion, not 10 (the numbers were right….but then again, what’s a few billion gallons among friends??).

  11. J Kraus says:

    I have to agree somewhat with RadioFlyer. During the early years of World War II, before the development of sonar, German U-Boats (submarines) operated with complete impunity. Silent, deadly underwater killing machines, they struck terror in the hearts of ship captains and crewmembers, whose vessels could be destroyed instantly with virtually no warning.

    They were particularly active just off the East Coast of the United States, destroying supply ships before they could sail the Atlantic to the aid of the Allied forces in Europe.

    Many of these ships were oil tankers. They were used to ferry both crude oil and refined products from the oil fields and refineries of Texas to the major East Coast population centers. The wartime losses became so severe that the first ever oil pipelines were built over the same route to avoid continual loses of oil at sea – oil that was needed for the military.

    In 1942 and 1943, 39 tankers were destroyed in the Gulf and along the Eastern Seaboard by hostile U-Boat action. The payloads ranged from crude oil to heating oil and aviation fuel (aviation fuel in the early 1940’s was simply high-octane gasoline – jet engines were still a few years off) and one load of liquid asphalt.

    In that two-year period, a good half-million tones of oil was lost at sea. To put this 500,000 tonnes in perspective, the Exxon Valdez spilled only 37,000 tonnes of crude. The Deepwater Horizon spill estimates are currently ranging from 77,000 to 640,000.

    What happened to all the oil? The word environmentalist had not yet been coined. There were no booms or dispersants. What was lost at sea was simply lost at sea. There was no screaming and gnashing of teeth over the spilled oil (except by the Allied Command, who desperately needed the precious fluid.) There was a war on.

  12. RadioFlyer says:

    @J Kraus – Very interesting, thanks for the additional data.

    Not to derail the thread, but I’d be curious if anyone here has any in depth knowledge of the Jones Act? Maybe a maritime attorney in the crowd?

    At the risk of subverting my previous argument and really showing my true colors as a right wing loonie….

    A theory I have (call it a conspiracy theory if you will – but I don’t think I’m alone in this suspicion, and it’s starting to show in the media) is that the reason we aren’t using supertankers and/or specialized oil recovery/mediation ships is because of the Jones Act.

    Or more specifically – because the Obama administration is unwilling to upset a major portion of his constituency (the majority of the unions) by suspending the Jones Act – both for the immediate and future consequences they perceive it would have for union jobs. Not to mention that a bigger spill and longer cleanup seriously helps his environmental agenda.

    In my opinion, this is not only unconscionable…it borders on criminal. I said this over in the comments for a video BR posted about “The Supertanker Strategy”….it’s the ultimate expression of Emanuel’s credo of never letting a good crisis go to waste. The ends justify the means to these people (meaning MOST politicians, regardless of party) and it’s abhorrent.

    I’m just sayin’.

    I could provide a couple of links on the subject, but they’re from Heritage.org (“conservative whackos”, right?) and the Houston Chronicle (“oil industry apologists”, no?)…so I’m leaving them out.

  13. alfred e says:

    I thought all the supertankers were anchored somewhere full of oil.

    Anyway, thanks for the useful info.

    Agree. Political gain has become the driving force. Show up. Wave the flag. Spend the weekend in Chicago.

  14. alfred e says:

    I do question BPs handling of the spill beginning to end. Totally. How can they not obtain the cargo capacity for 15,000 bbls a day?

  15. RadioFlyer says:

    Crazy, isn’t it? 15,000 bbl is roughly the volume of the aforementioned olympic pool. Not a whole lot, relatively speaking.

    I’d have to defer to someone more knowledgeable as to why they can’t obtain the cargo capacity…but my guess is because of the Jones Act. How many tankers/supertankers have been built in the U.S.? I’m guessing zero. Of the roughly 4,300 tankers in the world, only 59 are U.S. flagged (I hate to use Wikipedia, but it’s all I’ve got right now) and who knows where they are and how large they are.

    Again, is this the reason? I don’t know, but what I do know is that a single supertanker can hold about 2,000,000 barrels (or roughly 3 months worth if capturing a daily flow rate of 20,000 barrels of pure crude). Again, a little Wikipedia. Sorry.

    To say that somehow the largest, wealthiest nation in the world can’t scare up a supertanker or two out of a total supply of over 4 thousand tankers on short notice??? Well, that’s a little embarrassing….

  16. RadioFlyer says:

    BTW, J Kraus’ great post above, and its association with WWII sparked a thought. It’s unbelievably ironic, giving the timing (D-day anniversary recently) and location (New Orleans, and the high seas), that the story of the Higgins Boat has many parallels here. As you sat there motionless and dead silent during the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, you saw a lot of Higgins Boats.

    Many would argue that the Higgins Boat (designed and mass produced in New Orleans, the site of the National WWII Museum – because of the significance of the Higgins Boat) was one of, if not the major contributor, to our victory in D-day, and thus WWII. Parallels and fantastic lessons abound.

    Sad that the spirit that allowed this great country to do what it did all those years ago seems to be long gone.

    Either way, check out the Higgins Boat history – very cool.

  17. hdoggy says:

    The way I see it, I live on Colorado and we don’t have any great oyster joints, but if $1 oyster goes by the wayside then I pay. We’re all from the east coast here and we like to have our yearly soft shell crab party and if the bushels go way up in price, that party is out. Other than a Kramer style oil bladder, we don’t get oil spills here. I’m not a coastal man, but it surely sucks for those that are and me just a little bit, as I we cannot get good seafood.

    Not that this is done, but if this spawns a new tax to pay for the next one, do you think they will actually save the money to pay for the next one? It’s like Keynes’ dream of running surpluses in up years and deficits in down years. I say give the shore owners, fisherman, and New Orleans rights to X miles offshore and decide if they want to drill again. If they pay the price and come back, it’s theirs or put shares on the ocean with full liability, starting now.

    Good luck all. my point is that a clean up tax will go more to other ventures than where a clean up tax should go. It will go to regulation and not to fixing the problem (Just saying that makes me a neo-classicist).

  18. john6pack says:

    @J Krauss Let me get this straight – the fisherman are wailing and gnashing teeth because they’ve been brainwashed by environmentalist?

    @RadioFlyer, I’ll take that bet. This is the first time my phd in physical oceanography has ever qualified me to make an informed comment on the BP peanut gallery, so I can’t let this opportunity pass. As I said above, as long as it doesn’t get into the Loop Current, it will stay put in the Gulf. Here is a simulation of what happens if it does:


    As they say in the link: “The timing and course of the oil slick will be affected by regional weather conditions and the ever-changing state of the Gulf’s Loop Current—neither of which can be predicted more than a few days in advance. ” But I would make the bet that, if this thing keeps spewing for months, eventually it will get into the Loop Current.

    Volume is a poor gauge for size when the relevant quantity is area (like a surface oil slick) or length (like a coastline). If only the oil wouldn’t spread! Did you know that an Olympic swimming pool holds enough french fries to stretch two and a half times around the earth at the equator if placed end-to-end? Seriously, I just did the math: consider a McDonald’s french fry that is 10 cm x 0.5 cm x 0.5 cm, a 2500 m^3 Olympic pool, and 40000 km for the circumference of the earth. That’s a lot of coastline.

    The problem with cleaning up the oil is not having enough tankers or barges to pump it into. It’s having enough ships with booms to skim it off the surface. If the Feds and BP commandeered every oil recovery skimmer in the world right now, it would barely make a dent in a spill that now covers thousands of square miles. The genie is out of the bottle.

    Or perhaps you think hiring a bunch of unemployed fisherman to fill your supertankers one five gallon back thrown over the side at a time will get the job done?

    Oh you lovable right-wing wackos, you had me at “it’s the union’s fault”.

  19. herewegoagain says:

    @john6pac I feel your frustration. The real tragedy of the decay of objective media is not the message being delivered, but the style of “thought” that’s being taught. With everything reduced to ideology, no synthetic thinking is required. Assemble facts to support a preconception, ignore all contradictory data; then propagandize, rinse and repeat. We’re experiencing the death of “the grey area”… a nation of zealots.

    @adamsvictor It’s axiomatic that with more effective government oversight of the private sector, the current BP spill could have been avoided.

  20. RadioFlyer says:

    In keeping with recent precedent, our bet should probably benefit charities. I’ll write my losing check to Waterkeeper Alliance, okay? If I win, your check goes to….I don’t know, Waterkeeper Alliance? Let me know what $ amount you had in mind.

    So which is it, is the oil all on the surface/coast or is it all in vast, deadly, hidden undersea plumes? I’m confused. I guess it depends on which university or governmental agency you happen to favor – or which argument you’re trying to make.

    Won’t even get into the tanker discussion, since you didn’t really address my comments…but I will ask one thing – even if as you suggest, there isn’t sufficient capacity in the world, is that justification for not using any of that capacity? If there is even one tanker/skimmer/whatever you would like to call it, somewhere in Europe, Asia, South America…wherever….why isn’t it here?

    If the fire chief shows up to a fully engulfed house fire, does he radio the pumper and hook and ladder and tell them the fire’s too big, just head back to the station? And then send the bill for the whole neighborhood burning down to the drunken electrician that wired the house wrong, so it’s all his fault anyway? (OK, not sure about that one. I just woke up.)

    Nice link. Pretty colors. Care to give a sentence or two expanding on the dilution factors, and what impact those beige areas might have on the coast and/or wildlife? Or the fact that those animations don’t account for “details such as bacterial degradation, which is not included in the simulations”?? What else don’t they account for?

    You could pee off an oil rig in the gulf and could probably find a few molecules of your urine on Jones Beach in a year…but I’m still going swimming.

    BTW, how many times would a swimming pool of Arby’s curly fries stretch around the equator? Much better than McDonalds, especially since the vegetarians had the animal fat taken out…

  21. Mark Down says:

    If your squatting inside one of those nice upper eastside highrises the oil slick ain’t that bad…. Radioflyer!

  22. VennData says:

    “…British prime minister will discuss BP crisis with Obama…”


    GOP Response: “Obama’s overly-emotive, heavy-handed approach to do everything possible to fix up and clean up the Gulf of Mexico spill – allegedly caused by BP – has put us in a precarious position with our once-closest ally, Great Britain, and will lead to war in the Atlantic… which we will lose because of Obama’s feckless defense cuts, poor management, and higher taxes.”

  23. john6pack says:

    By all means get all the ship/skimmers/booms possible here, even if IMO they barely make a dent. I think the fact that they aren’t here yet is in part due to how badly need was underestimated in the first few days/weeks by both BP and the Feds. I think the idea that Obama would endure public roasting and threaten his entire domestic agenda to protect a handful of union jobs is a stretch.

    You asked for two sentences on dilution factor. Here are two sentences pulled from the link. “The dilution factor does not attempt to estimate the actual barrels of oil at any spot; rather, it depicts how much of the total oil from the source that will be carried elsewhere by ocean currents. For example, areas showing a dilution factor of 0.01 would have one-hundredth the concentration of oil present at the spill site.”

    So it’s just a scale factor, not a prediction of absolute levels of oil. As they say elsewhere, by “dye” they simply mean that they are tracking water parcels. No account is being made for the dynamics of oil vs water, or degradation of the oil. It gives a reasonable idea of where the oil might be carried by water. The same types of models are used, for example, to predict where life rafts might drift to after deployment off a sinking ship.

    Perhaps someone is working on a model that simulates how crude oil forms its various gloops, chunks, and streaks (most likely driven by Langmuir circulations, see wikipedia), and the circulation model used above (or one like it) would simply be used as the driving forces or external boundary conditions, along with a wind model. That would definitely be more advanced than just an advection model and considerably more complicated.

    I don’t think I made any particular argument about whether it’s all on the surface or in vast underwater plumes. I simply said that a confined/contained volume like a swimming pool is a poor metaphor. Perhaps if we were talking about nuclear waste stored in barrels and how much could fit in Yucca mountain then a volume scale like ‘number of swimming pools’ makes sense. We’re not, and it doesn’t.

    If my first post on this thread, I express uncertainty about whether the oil will land on Miami Beach (bad), or whether it will be dispersed across the North Atlantic (relatively good), that is, if it becomes significantly entrained in the loop current at all. (I try to be a good scientist cognizant of the uncertainty in the real world, the shade of gray that partisan idealogues never seem to appreciate). You chimed in seeming pretty sure that it won’t land anywhere on the east coast and you’d be willing to bet. The sports fan in me decided to take that bet. So no, I’m not willing to make any further comments on dispersant factors and oil concentrations and coastal mixing or anything else specific about absolute levels of oil on beaches. I already said I don’t know, like everyone else who really has a clue. I’ll simply take my side of the bet and see what happens.

    The Waterkeeper Alliance seems like a fine group. I’ll be happy to lose this bet and see east Florida (starting at say Key Largo?) and Outer Banks beaches stay clean, and donate $25 to this outfit. We need a more definitive timeline that “won’t ever see”? Six months?

  24. RadioFlyer says:

    I certainly respect your opinion on the subject given your background, but opinions on the potential effectiveness of ship/skimmer/booms vary widely. I just don’t understand why anyone would take the stance that they don’t think an available option will really help all that much, so we won’t bother trying. Removing any oil is better than removing none, isn’t it? Is that not what we’re trying to do here, clean up? Or are we more interested in “screaming and teeth-gnashing” and blaming the big bad multinational oil company? That was the point I was trying to make.

    BTW, even if they were seriously ineffective, but didn’t make the situation worse, they would at the very least be good PR for both BP and the government – seems reason enough to do it. Going back to my burning building analogy – who wants to find out the “good news” that only 3 houses on the block burned down and the local FD did a pretty good job….but if we called the FDs from the surrounding towns, only 1 house would have burned down? Simplistic, maybe. But I believe that doing something and taking a chance is almost always better than doing nothing and not knowing.

    I agree it seems a bit of a stretch to think Obama would be risking a backlash to protect union jobs (although I disagree that it’s a “handful”) and advance his agenda (I don’t agree with your argument that it necessarily threatens his agenda) – as I said, it’s just a theory. However, the fact remains that there are ships that are currently available throughout the world that could be working in the Gulf, within days or a week or two – this is indisputable. I don’t know if there are two ships, 20 ships or hundreds…but they’re out there, not cleaning anything. If the Jones Act/Protectionism theory isn’t the reason, fine – but what is? If the administration feels that it really isn’t worth the bother, they ought to say so – although I bet the guys in the marshes using Wet-Vacs from their Boston Whalers would disagree. If they’re all on the way (it’s just taken almost 2 months to get them here), they might want to mention that too.

    I disagree that the swimming pool analogy is completely inapplicable – but you’re a scientist and I’m an engineer…I bet we could go on and on and not make much headway (and these posts are way too long!), so I’m tapping out.

    Same goes with the current models/forecasts – I think we both agree that they represent a good guess of where things might move when taken by the currents, but it’s exceptionally difficult to predict what the concentration of oil would be and what impact it might have – just too many variables. My real motivation for responding to this post was to express frustration that there never seems to be a rational discussion of the science and the actual fact, just lots of hyperbole and thoughts of “oh my gosh, the oil will destroy the East Coast and the North Sea in a couple of months!!!!”.

    $25 and six months sound good. But I guess it’ll be tough to settle, since “clean” beaches and “oil on the coast” is a little subjective. So I’ll just send a check to Waterkeeper anyway, I’m sure they can put it to good use somewhere.

    (Sorry if any of my comments were, or appeared snarky – not intended that way, just difficult to convey emotion and intent in blog postings/emails.)

  25. RadioFlyer says:

    RE: Questions to Adm. Allen regarding Jones Act, as well as supertankers.

    I have great respect for Adm. Allen, but it seems that he either doesn’t know answers that he probably should, or quite likely, he’s not at liberty to answer as clearly and directly as he would like.

    If interested, see this transcript from today’s (Thursday) press conference, several relevant questions toward the middle of the document.


  26. john6pack says:

    I agree that opinions vary widely on the effectiveness of the skimmers, both now and if/when we get a lot more of them. As I said above, we definitely should. And it is apparent the Feds/BP have been lax in accepting some of the help offered. My armchair political analysis is that after bailing out the banks and car companies, Obama didn’t want to be seen as rushing to bail out BP by taking over the clean up, and left too much of the responsibility to them. Mistake!

    I still think the swimming pool analogy (volume) is as poor a metaphor as my my french fry one (linear). If nothing else, it clearly fails because it gives a false sense of how little oil has been spilled, when everything from satellite imagery to live camera feeds of a spewing pipe to photos of oiled marshes indicate its a lot of freaking oil.

    I think we’ve both learned something from this exchange. I’m also going to send my $25 to the Waterkeepers now. Win win. Perhaps if we see each other in the Comments section 6 months from now we can resume the discussion. And hopefully you will have won the bet! aloha

  27. FritzInLouisiana says:

    “Life will go on just fine.” I must agree with – This will make no difference to Life 1,000,000 years from now. But what about the Gulf Coast wildlife and folks that make a living?

    And to throw some analogies and numbers around. The human body might have 100 trillion cells. It takes less than 10 units of Ebola or 10 cells of E coli 0157 H7 to infect a person. Taking these numbers and comparing oil to water in the Gulf. One could kill a human 1500 times if the human body was the Gulf and Ebola was the oil spilled.

    But I guess if the East Coast is not destroyed then who that matters even cares.

  28. RadioFlyer says:

    @FritzInLouisiana, my condolences to all of the folks impacted by this mess, as I’ve said before, it’s a tragedy that will hurt a lot of people and I, like most people, certainly wish it never happened.

    There was some debate between john6pack and myself about the analogy I used. We both agree it isn’t a perfect analogy, but differ as to whether it has any validity at all. However, respectfully, I don’t think your analogy has any applicability in this case. That said, I’m no biologist (marine or otherwise), so there’s no point in a technical debate.

    The point I was trying to make with my analogy (and maybe I never made it clear) is that there is a level at which anything is toxic, whether it’s oil, ebola, or water itself. Crude oil is a naturally occurring part of the ecosystem, on land or underwater, and in low concentrations, diluted in vast volumes, it is relatively harmless.

    The problem obviously comes when the concentrations are too high. It is my opinion that if the government and/or BP were even remotely capable parties, they would have done a much better job gathering oil at/near the source (primarily via skimming) and then treated the remaining oil that got through (10% of it? 50% of it? 90% of it – whatever it was) with dispersants – rather than the other way around.

    It remains a debate as to how effective using supertankers, foreign oil skimmers, etc. would be and how much they would have helped. However in my opinion, it is absolutely indisputable that any skimming, even if it removed small percentages of the oil, would have been better than not using them at all.

    BTW, people on the East Coast have dealt with their fair share of disasters, both natural and man made, since they’ve been there, and they always will – just like people on the Gulf will. To say “they” (meaning East Coasters, or the nation at large) don’t care isn’t really fair.