New York Professor’s Computer Model Tracks Flow of Oil Spill

April 30, 2010

A computer model developed by a professor at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York is being used to help federal officials predict the flow of oil and natural gas released by the recent oil platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

Poojitha Yapa, a professor of civil and environmental engineering in Clarkson’s Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering, is advising officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on how to adapt his Comprehensive Deepwater Oil and Gas (CDOG) blowout model to predict where the natural gas and oil released by the explosion will end up.

“In this case, this is an emergency, so they don’t have time to use all the complex features in the model,” Yapa said, “and sometimes in emergencies you’re working with very limited data.”

Yapa said he developed the model over the course of six to eight years with the help of a series of graduate students. “It is very complex. It can simulate all kinds of different scenarios,” he says.

This isn’t the first time NOAA has used CDOG. Yapa said it’s been used in several other deepwater oil and natural gas leaks. CDOG is designed for situations where natural gas or oil is released from at least 2,500 feet below the surface. The release can be the result of a spill, as in the Gulf of Mexico, or from natural venting in the ocean floor.

Predicting where the spill will go depends on many factors, Yapa said, including how much natural gas has been released along with the oil. “Typically in most cases when there is oil released underwater there is also gas. And that makes it more complex,” he says.

Yapa said that the mixture coming out is both oil and gas. “And you’re talking here about extremely high pressure — 5,000 feet underwater — and you have all kinds of things taking place,” he says. Also affecting the predictions are currents, the amount of salt in the water and water temperature.

Yapa and Clarkson are involved in other deepwater-related work, particularly with gas and hydrate related work in deepwater. He is recognized worldwide as a major expert on modeling oil and gas released in deepwater.

Source: Clarkson University

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