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NRL models Deepwater Horizon oil spill

ture operations by applying integrated forecasting to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He describes two sets of experiments: one at a local scale, focusing on currents near Louisiana; the second at a mesoscale, looking at the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Local scale: predicting where shoreline oil would be worst

Using satellite images from May 11, 2010which show oil slicks still well away from shoreJolliff forecast how oil would move over the next 96 hours. He predicted oil would make a substantial landfall on the Louisiana coast, west of the Mississippi River Delta, on May 14. "The forecast was qualitatively accurate," he says. "That's precisely what happened."

Jolliff uses the NRL tool, Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS). "[COAMPS] was designed to provide a direct forecast of oceanographic and atmospheric variables, things like surface temperature, surface humidity, sea surface temperature, current speeds, and atmospheric visibility."

With forecasts of how water is moving from COAMPS, Jolliff predicts how a tracer will be transported through that system using BioCast. With a tracer like surface chlorophyll, which indicates phytoplankton abundance, he might forecast water clarity for a naval operations environment. By using oil from a well-documented spill as a tracer, Jolliff validated how the models work together.

"One of the things we can do at NRL is we can start to explore areas that weren't necessarily thought of when [COAMPS] was designed," says Jolliff.

Following Deepwater Horizon's blowout, "the main surface aggregation of oil was offshore." For the oil to reach shorelines, surface water from the deep ocean would have to carry it in and exchange with coastal waters.

"What we find, generally," says Jolliff, "is that the water near shore tends to stay near shore, and the water off shore tends to stay off shore. So in order to forecast if this oil is going to impact som

Contact: Kyra Wiens
Naval Research Laboratory

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