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Supercomputer simulations say oil spill may head up East Coast

Supercomputer simulations say oil spill may head up East Coast

Posting in Energy

A supercomputer simulation conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in conjunction with the Los Alamos National Laboratory indicates that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to move up the East Coast.

A supercomputer simulation conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in conjunction with the Los Alamos National Laboratory indicates that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to move up the East Coast. However, officials stressed the results are a simulation and not a prediction.

The findings, detailed by NCAR, suggest that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could extend "along thousands of miles of the Atlantic coast and open ocean as early as this summer."

According to NCAR:

The computer simulations indicate that, once the oil in the uppermost ocean has become entrained in the Gulf of Mexico’s fast-moving Loop Current, it is likely to reach Florida's Atlantic coast within weeks. It can then move north as far as about Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with the Gulf Stream, before turning east. Whether the oil will be a thin film on the surface or mostly subsurface due to mixing in the uppermost region of the ocean is not known.

Related: How scientists are keeping their eyes on the oil spill

The simulation hasn't been submitted for peer review. The model simulated how a liquid would disperse at the spill site and then disperse. Supercomputers at the New Mexico Computer Applications Center and Oak Ridge National Laboratory ran the simulations. Here are the key caveats:

The simulations are not a forecast because it is impossible to accurately predict the precise location of the oil weeks or months from now. Instead, the simulations provide an envelope of possible scenarios for the oil dispersal. The timing and course of the oil slick will be affected by regional weather conditions and the ever-changing state of the Gulf’s Loop Current—neither of which can be predicted more than a few days in advance. The dilution of the oil relative to the source will also be impacted by details such as bacterial degradation, which are not included in the simulations.

However, oil has been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico since April 20 and models indicate that the pollution could travel 100 miles a day if the liquid hits the Atlantic's Gulf Stream.

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Larry Dignan

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure