From: Scott Sincoff, ENN
Published July 13, 2012 08:05 PM

New Study Shows Wind Played Large Role in BP Deepwater Horizon Incident

A new study by the University of Miami has found that winds played a key role in the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil spill in spring 2010. The oil spill, the largest in the history of the United States, leaked at least 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. When the accident occurred, the intense loop current drew concerns that the oil at the surface could find its way to southern Florida and the eastern Atlantic Ocean; no oil was observed in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, but was mainly in the area of the northern shorelines of the Gulf of Mexico.

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In the study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, University of Miami scientists collaborated with the Colorado School of Mines and the Naval Research Laboratory to use numerical simulations to attempt to understand how the oil transported from the site of the oil rig to the northern Gulf coast.

The research team discovered that the wind-induced surface drifts specifically distributed the oil in a path toward the coast. The drift also worked to displace and spread the crude oil on different paths toward the shore. However, the aftereffects of the wind towards the crude oil were not noted in the ocean circulation models of the incident and the nautical weather forecasts during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The team also integrated the wind effect to the ocean currents while executing a three-dimensional model of the oil's extension from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico to the surface of the ocean. This simulation allowed a practical demonstration of how the oil actually spread to the surface of the Gulf coast. They also allowed were verified by regional ocean models that incorporate actual data along with the University of Miami's observational composites through their Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing.

University of Miami scientist Matthieu Le Henaff said that it is extremely daunting to learn how such a large amount of crude oil made it to the surface of the United States, specifically the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic coast of Florida. "The dominant northward winds during spring and summer of 2010 led the surface oil to be pushed onto the Northern Gulf shelf areas and toward the coasts, away from the interior of the Gulf and the Loop Current southward transport," said Le Hanaff. "This effect, together with the evolution of the Loop Current, was crucial in maintaining the oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig within the Gulf of Mexico and away from the South Florida coral reefs and beaches."

For more information, please visit: The University of Miami News Releases

Image Credit: Oil Spill via Shutterstock

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