How Gulf Spill Estimates Got It So Wrong

Marine oil spills are usually measured by the amount of oil floating on the surface. But the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico—from a deep-sea well required a different approach. Find out how one fluid-dynamics expert caused estimates to rise sharply practically overnight.

© 2011 National Geographic; partially funded by NSF

UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT

ONE OF THE KEY QUESTIONS IN THE 2010 GULF OIL SPILL WILL LIKELY NEVER BE COMPLETELY ANSWERED – EXACTLY HOW MUCH OIL SURGED INTO THE SEA?

ESTIMATES RANGED IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE SPILL – WITH THE COAST GUARD AT FIRST SAYING JUST 1,000 BARRELS A DAY WERE LEAKING AND THEN RAISING THAT TO 5,000. BUT ON MAY 12TH, 2010, THAT NUMBER SOARED DRAMATICALLY. THE REASON? A FLUID DYNAMICS EXPERT AT PURDUE UNIVERSITY GOT TO SEE VIDEO OF THE RUPTURED WELL AND SAW THAT THE NUMBERS CLEARLY WERE NOT ADDING UP. Read more

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