back to article Supercomputer oil slick sims predict greasy Atlantic

Supercomputers are good for more than just designing nuclear weapons or making doomsday predictions about climate change. They can depress us in other ways, like showing us the extent of the damage that could be done by BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore rig spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The National Center for Atmospheric …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It would be interesting to know....

    ...if the simulated spread since the spill started in any way matches the actual flow of oil to date - whilst far from conclusive, if it's pretty much spot on then it adds a lot of credence to the ongoing predictions...likewise, if it's way out, then logic dictates it's less likely to be doing a decent job of representing oil flow.

    1. strangefish


      if you compare their animation with animations of the observed slick to date they don't really tie together at all well although it's true the observed slick can't take into account the lighter, better mixed fractions which would probably behave more like the simulation. It still seems unnecessarily apocalyptic though.

  2. J 3

    Viscosity wrong?

    "NCAR researchers warn that the simulated dye in the water has the same viscosity of water"

    Ah. Forget about it, then. I don't know why they even bothered running it like that.

    I suspect penguins will be unaffected nonetheless.

    1. Adam Salisbury

      Aboslutely Agree

      What a complete waste of time, money and effort, they're merely forecasting how coloured water will move in non-coloured water, what use is that to anyone? I'm still trying to work out which frustrates me more, the fact that people calling themselves scientists have demonstrated massively stupid inepitude by omitting a hugely influential and critical variable, or that their superiors didn't fire them for it!

  3. BlueGreen


    ... and no criticism of the article, the oil is being released much deeper (duh) but significantly it's being in some manner dissolved in the water (with plenty left over for the marine life to expire in). Where dissolved its behaviour may be much closer to the simulated dye used. My wild guess though.

    The chance that the greasy tap gets turned off on june 20th is fractionally above zero. Drilling experts seem to think the relief wells are the realistic answer, and they're due august, if lucky.

    As to "it is astonishing that such simulations are not part of the environmental impact statement for such deep-water rigs", well, that'd cost real money up front. Easier on the bottom line to not stress about it until the clanger is dropped, and then corporate entity gets the financial spanking from hell.

    Like I said before, I don't think humans are evolved to consider long-term risk.

    What a horrible, sad mess this is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @I don't think humans are evolved to consider long-term risk

      Exactly! At best they think as far ahead as the impact on their children. But their grandchildren are invariably cordially invited to go fuck a duck! So to speak.

      1. Elmer Phud

        Think of the children!

        Well, they don't really think of the children other than as things that are supposed to support them in later life.

        Humans - short lived species, didn't really achieve much other than learning how to light thier own farts. Funny little things - kept going on about saving the planet which actually meant 'fuck everything else' and forgot they were just part of the scum on their planets' surface.

        Won't be missed apart from the entertainment factor.

  4. Captain Save-a-ho

    Simulated dye?

    Why use simulated dye that has the viscosity of water? Is there any intelligent reason NOT to program something using the viscosity of crude oil?

    More tax dollars hard at fucking off.

    1. Trevor 10

      weather model

      The model used to generate the simulation is a weather model. It's designed to evaluate the movement of water around the globe because salinity and temperature have an effect on weather. I bet the system doesn't have a model of any liquid which is not water.

      Thats not to say that they couldn't have programmed more viscous liquids into the model but they would have had no expieremental data to backup the model to test the behaviour of the newly programmed liquid type.

      Also, as they said, the oil viscosity changes as it is diluted and attacked biologically so to get a more accurate model isn't really a case of just adding a more viscous liquid model, you would need to estimate the way oil changes in salt water, at different temperatures and over time.

      That said, I wouldn't be surprised to see a whole lot of samples being taken to provide that information for the model of the next oil spill.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      ... to see where it goes

      Its done that way because such an ensemble (adding a tracer to the water) is quick and easy to do. Modelling the transport and breakdown of oil is tough, and the output of this model gives you a hint at to whether its worth it, and gives the coastguard an idea what to plan for: if the oil got stuck in the loop current and didn't hit Florida in the sims then you would be less concerned about getting more barriers to Florida, etc.

      Poor information (or with caveats) now is often far more valuable than perfect information in the future.

  5. Jolyon Ralph

    Moaning fishermen

    I don't see what the problem is.

    I thought oily fish were meant to be good for you.

  6. Bob H

    Burning Alligators

    But what about the risk of a conflagration of burning alligators as predicted by Michael Bay?


  7. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    So we close down...

    the European airspace at the whim of a computer model which has been proven incorrect, and now someone's trying to close down the Atlantic on the same basis?

    Remember, the CO2 scare that we're just coming out of was driven entirely by models. Hasn't anyone noticed that these models are just plain wrong? All the time?

    1. BlueGreen

      @Dodgy Geezer

      > the European airspace at the whim of a computer model which has been proven incorrect

      was it?

      > and now someone's trying to close down the Atlantic on the same basis?

      'close down the atlantic'? Did you just write that? Yes you did.

      > Remember, the CO2 scare that we're just coming out of was driven entirely by models.

      Because to be on the safe side we should forget the models and wait for ecological catastrophe to [happen] [not happen]. Delete as appropriate.

      > Hasn't anyone noticed that these models are just plain wrong? All the time?

      Models are models and have degrees of accuracy, not absolutes. However it's clear you have no idea of what a model is. Or how models relate to the real world. Or the complexities of fluids, or the lack of info on how oil reacts with water, what the deep currents are in that area, or how the marine life will be affected, including microbes. Or anything relevant really.

      But so long as you can find a keyboard & mouse, just keep on posting. This is the reg. Neurons optional. Unfortunately.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    No astonishment needed..

    "it is astonishing that such simulations are not part of the environmental impact statement for such deep-water rigs"

    Given that they pretty much got away with writing their own test rapports and avoiding the basics of containment security (as far as I can tell, the cost of doing it right amounted to less than a day worth of profit from the well) I can't see a real case for *astonishment*. In addition, this is the first time it's done with quite a lot of computing power, and the model isn't incorporating the fluid dynamics of oil, just water. I hope the scientists will now use real data to adjust the model so simulations will come out with results matching reality. At that point I would indeed accept that it could be a good idea, but keep an eye on the realities.

    BP screwed up badly, and Hayward has probably done enough to make himself be retired with a traditional fat pension, but the US needs local oil or it depends again in full on Middle East supplies. That bit is not mentioned in the press, but is harsh reality.

    I thus suspect a lot of noise, but no real status in the underlying status quo. IMHO, the US cannot afford it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "BP screwed up badly"

      Doesn't anybody think that Transocean (the operators of the rig) have some responsibility in the problem?

      As I understand it, although BP are the company commissioning the exploration, it was Transocean who were in control and responsible for the rig safety. They are originally a US company that has now gone international, and are now based in Switzerland.

      BP could probably have just pointed the finger and tried to deflect the blame, rather than embarking on actions that will almost certainly hurt their balancesheet, and may also cause them some reputational damage. Give them some credit for stepping up to the mark, and taking control of the situation.

      The US emergency organizations have already admitted that they do not have the facilities or skill to address the problem, so it is clearly best to leave BP them in the driving seat, unless someone else comes along with more experience.

      Of course, you may consider it foolhardy to explore in such deep waters, but that is another question entirely.

  9. lIsRT

    Worst Case Scenario

    "The NCAR simulations do not take into account what might happen if a hurricane rips through the Gulf and then ricochets out to the Atlantic across the Panhandle."

    Fortunately, XKCD has already addressed this.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Oil is organic

    Oil is an organic product. As such it will break down in the ocean with the action of the waves and microbes. Studies have shown that oil left on beaches after an oil spill doesn't stay beyond a year. The case of oil tanker that ran aground in the Shetlands is a case in point. The disaster there wasn't as bad as expected due to the fact that a storm was going on and that broke up the oil slick pretty quickly.

    The oil will reach Florida, but it won't go much beyond in to the Atlantic.

  11. YumDogfood

    NASCAR simulations?

    What gets my goat is the scrabbling to get some political mileage out of this cockup.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Sucking the exhaust pipe

      Well Obama's rating is slipping, so why not play the poor hard done-by good guy. Even better when you can bitch off a British company rather than the US company that did the drilling. Its a win-win situation surely?? I wonder whether the mileage is bankrolled by Exxon.

      Ignoring the fact that if US car manufacturers had average MPG values north of 35 they wouldnt have needed the oil in the first place??

  12. The old man from scene 24

    Oil is a bit like volcanic dust

    Its concentration decreases the more you spread it out. So mixing this stuff with the loop current sounds like it could be a great idea. Wouldn't it, just perhaps, have been useful if the computer model in question also gave and estimate of concentration and compared that to some reasonably safe level? You know, to give us an upper bound on the extent of the disaster.

  13. GavinC

    Another simulation

    "NCAR researchers warn that the simulated dye in the water has the same viscosity of water, unlike the oil that is actually spreading through the Gulf of Mexico.

    Oil can clump up and moves in different ways"

    I just ran a simulation of Gordon Brown competing in the 100m at the 2012 olympics, only to discover he won gold. Of course I used Usain Bolt rather than Gordon in the simulation, and we know they both move in different ways, but still........

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    DOOOOOMED, Were Doooooomed I tell ye!

    DOOOOOMED, Were Doooooomed I tell ye!


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