That’s 56,000 Barrels A Day…Not 5,000

The researchers used high-resolution video clips of flow from the Deepwater Horizon well to measure volume. Credit: U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

That’s right, new work suggests BP’s estimates of oil flowing from the broken well were an order of magnitude off.  With these revised estimates, the BP Gulf Spill is 10 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill.  The new estimate calculates flow rate from the resolution of the plume in 30 second video grabs with a method called optical plume velocimetry technique (o’ yes I will be dropping that into conversation this weekend over cocktails).  The faster the flow the lower the resolution of the plume in the video.  Interestingly, this technique was developed to measure venting at hydrothermal vents.  Love this quote from the press release

“This is a great example of how basic research that doesn’t seem to have any immediate value suddenly gains huge immediacy for society,” said study researcher Timothy Crone, a marine geophysicist at Columbia University, in a statement.

Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

2 comments on “That’s 56,000 Barrels A Day…Not 5,000
  1. LMAO I was on the cruise in 2005 when these things were being tested! They look like frying pans with a grid overlaid on it. It was put in the hydrothermal vent plume and recorded for a certain period of time. The software basically finds a particle and follows it, then calculates how far it went based on the grid and the time it took to travel. Scale it up to gazillions of particles and you get a mean flow rate. Simple and elegant, yet another reason to keep funding hydrothermal vent science!

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