How Gulf Spill Estimates Got It So Wrong
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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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