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NRL models Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Date:3/18/2014

Dr. Jason Jolliff is an oceanographer with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). "The emphasis here," he says, "is on developing models of the ocean environment to help the naval warfighter." His most recent paper, published in Ocean Modeling (March 2014), shows NRL can also forecast where oil will go following a major spill.

"If you're going to do forecasting," he says, "you have to get the ocean circulation correct. It's fundamental to all else." Jolliff plugged the distribution of surface oil following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spillwhen it was still well offshoreinto a powerful NRL forecasting tool. He accurately predicted what would happen to the oil; in particular, the processes that made inevitable its landfall on Louisiana shorelines fully four days later.

Jolliff's second key point is, "When we look at oceanographic problems, we have to understand the scales of time and space we're dealing with." In 2010, there was concern about oil washing up on Florida beaches. But oil does evaporate and degrade; so knowing how far the oil will go over what period of time helps predict which beaches are at most risk.

Jolliff is part of a team developing a tool called Bio-Optical Forecasting (BioCast). "We're developing this framework where you can combine satellite images, that give you an estimate of what is in the ocean, with ocean circulation models." BioCast calculates "how those materials will ultimately be transported and dispersed."

Jolliff is interested in how "tracers"like plankton or nitrate distributionchange water clarity. "That will help the Navy predict ocean optical properties." Divers need good visibility, as do airborne platforms that use electro-optics to "look" for mines in shallow waters. "But the general knowledge that we gain can be applied to a very wide range of forecasting problems, including contaminant distribution and oil spill response."

Jolliff validated NRL's capability for fu
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Contact: Kyra Wiens
kyra.wiens@nrl.navy.mil
202-404-3324
Naval Research Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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