Predicting Oil Spill Trajectories

Various models are used to predict the trajectories of oil slicks. Understanding oil displacement is important for understanding how oil can affect our oceanic systems. 

One model for predicting the movement of oil is the General NOAA Operational Modeling Environment, GNOME. This model is used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Emergency Response Division(ERD) in order to predict the route and trajectory a pollutant might follow. This model has been used before for the estimation of oil spill trajectories. By entering necessary information into the model, the program can compute a general trajectory of the oil and estimations of some information on the oil residence (evaporation, bleaching) (NOAA/ERD, 2010).

Sample of the GNOME model predicting the distribution of oil. (NOAA 2012)


Another Model used is the community climate System Model (CCSM). The National Center for Atmospheric Research, NCAR, and collaborators produced a model for the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill, this simulation provided a well-known image of the predicted trajectory of the spill(UCAR, 2010). The liquids trajectory assumed that the pollution has the same density as the water around it, making it similar to a dye, rather than actual oil. As a result, the comparisons of the trajectory only give a vague idea of how something might flow in the Gulf of Mexico, rather than how oil would flow. The natural breakdown, coagulation, and the surfactant properties of oil were not taken into consideration.

CCSM Model



1.) NOAA/ERD, 2010. General NOAA Operational Modeling Envrionment (GNOME model). http://responce.restoration.noaa.gov (accessed February 28, 2012).

2.) UCAR, 2010. Ocean currents likely to carry oil along Atlantic coast. http://www2.ucar.edu/news/ocean-currents-likely-to-carry-oil-spill-along-atlantic-coast (accessed February 28, 2012).

3.) Klemas, V. 2010. Tracking oil slicks and predicting their trajectories using remote sensors and models:case studies of the Sea Princess and Deepwater Horizon Oil Spills. J. Coastal Research; 26(5): 789-797.

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