NCAR simulations track oil to East Coast by summer

by Eric on June 3, 2010

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) today released new video of a fluid simulation scenario showing oil from the BP disaster moving into the Atlantic Ocean as early as 80 days after it was spilled, or sometime in July.

While the dye model simulation doesn’t capture the dynamics of crude oil interacting with the ocean, and it depends upon the very likely possibility that the oil will continue to gush out of the ruined well, it does illustrate how quickly fluids entrained in the Gulf Loop Current can end up carried by the Gulf Stream around Florida and up the Eastern Seaboard.

But before you give up your summer beach rental out at the Vineyard, there are some limits to the fidelity of their simulation:

The dye tracer used in the model has no actual physical resemblance to true oil. Unlike oil, the dye has the same density as the surrounding water, does not coagulate or form slicks, and is not subject to chemical breakdown by bacteria or other forces.

Peacock and her colleagues stress that the simulations are not a forecast because it is impossible to accurately predict the precise location of the oil weeks or months from now. Instead, the simulations provide an envelope of possible scenarios for the oil dispersal. 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. The dilution of the oil relative to the source will also be impacted by details such as bacterial degradation, which are not included in the simulations.

It is possible that the oil may dilute or degrade long before it gets to the Atlantic, but the simulation does present the sobering possibility that BP’s oil may end up coming home this fall, albeit not in the belly of a tanker.

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