As government officials continue to nervously monitor the cap on the Deepwater Horizon well, there are still millions of barrels of oil oozing around in the Gulf of Mexico. In order to minimize the damage, scientists, engineers, and government officials need to figure out where that oil is headed. The bad news: Few things on the planet are as unpredictable as the currents in the Gulf of Mexico.
While the spill is constantly being photographed both by satellite and aerial imagery, those pictures are incomplete. Because the source of the spill is so far beneath the waves, a great deal of the oil that's been spewed has never reached the surface.
This is where complex models of the gulf's currents and eddies come in handy. The National Center for Atmospheric Research has used 120 years of data to simulate how the gulf behaves. In order to determine where the oil from the BP spill might end up, the NCAR inserted a "virtual dye"—essentially, digital food coloring—into their enormously complex three-dimensional models. The result: lots and lots of oil-spill scenarios.
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