Scientists Produce 3-D Models of BP Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico Using Ranger Supercomputer

June 3, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin are using the Texas Advanced Computing Center's (TACC) Ranger supercomputer to produce 3-D simulations of the impact of BP's massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill on coastal areas.

With an emergency allocation of one million computing hours from the National Science Foundation TeraGrid project, the researchers are running high resolution models of the Louisiana coast to track the oil spill through the complex marshes, wetlands and channels in the area.

The researchers include Clint Dawson, professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics and head of the Computational Hydraulics Group at the university's Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences; Rick Luettich, professor of marine sciences and head of the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill; and Joannes Westerink, professor of civil engineering at the University of Notre Dame.

Dawson said he and his colleagues have access to highly accurate descriptions of the Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas coastlines due to earlier hurricane storm surge research.

"What our model can do that a lot of the other models can't do is track the oil spill up into the marshes and wetlands, because we have fine-scale resolution in those areas," he said.

This kind of detail will help the scientists determine how the oil may spread in environmentally sensitive areas. The team's 2-D and 3-D coastal models also will take into account the Gulf of Mexico waves, which may bring the oil closer to the Texas coast.

Of chief concern is the possibility that a hurricane moving through the gulf may bring the oil inland. The team hopes to be able to provide support for disaster responders who may need to make emergency management decisions based on the computer models.

The primary reason for using Ranger is the massive scale of the data involved in this type of modeling and simulation. The researchers receive satellite imagery of the spill from the university's Center for Space Research and download meteorological data from the National Centers for Environmental Protection every six hours. They combine these data into a 72-hour forecast at 50-meter resolution, which is 10 to 20 times more detailed than many other models being run on the spill.

TACC Director Jay Boisseau said this is one of many emergency response efforts for which TACC has provided computational power.

"Ranger gives us the ability to support an immense amount of computational research while reacting quickly to urgent needs such as hurricane predictions, swine flu outbreak scenarios and this oil spill," Boisseau said.

For each model run, the Advanced Circulation Model for Oceanic, Coastal and Estuarine Waters simulation uses 4,096 cores on Ranger for three hours. The group has been performing between one and four simulations each day.

Gordon Wells, program manager for real-time satellite remote sensing at the Center for Space Research, is a technology adviser for state emergency management efforts. He said he is optimistic that the 3-D models will show how the oil spill interacts with underwater vegetation and provide a more accurate forecast of the environmental impact the spill will have in the coming months.

For more information, contact: Faith Singer-Villalobos, Texas Advanced Computing Center, 512 232 5771.

28 Comments to "Scientists Produce 3-D Models of BP Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico Using Ranger Supercomputer"

1.  mrgardon said on June 3, 2010

Where can I go to find the actual configuration of the hole and the drilling "stuff" in the hole from the floor of the Gulf to the reservoir? A few items: diameter of the hole, is it the same all the way down, types and consistency of material that was drilled through, drilling material that's up against the walls of the hole, drilling "stuff" in the hole, how much of the drilling "stuff" can be pulled out of the hole?

2.  aas said on June 4, 2010

Hey, there should be no federal money going to any of the states down there to clean this up. Those Southern states, minus Florida, all voted for the "drill baby drill" team in the last presidential election. Let 'em suck it up and enjoy dealing with BP directly.

3.  magidion said on June 4, 2010

@aas Not all of us voted for the "drill baby drill" team, and your lack of compassion for the scope of this environmental disaster is appalling.

4.  Nicole said on June 5, 2010

This is the #1 argument against off shore drilling. In the amount of time this thing has been gushing oil into the ocean couldn't we have dropped another rig on top of it and started dragging this stuff up and barreling it? Can you even begin to imagine the environmental fallout of a catastrophe like this? It is appalling that a company responsible for something like this would still be in operation after failing to contain it for this long. BP should be put out of business and it is the duty of the American people to stop consuming their oil and see to it that BP is no longer a player in the American market.

5.  jdr said on June 7, 2010

When Toyota cars are recalled, do we stop driving cars? An end to offshore drilling would be detrimental to the U.S. economy -- we must supplement imported oil with domestic production if we are to continue to sustain growth.

@Nicole, this is rather the #1 argument for increased oversight of companies that drill offshore. (Who approved BP's risk management proposal that addresses these potential disasters?)

Finally, this is a #1 argument for federal support of researching alternative fuel sources. Make finding an alternative the #1 priority for companies, and the market will force oil companies to cease.

6.  Interested Scientist said on June 9, 2010

Please publish the results of the simulations!

7.  StuartR. said on June 9, 2010

It is irresponsible if you don't know anything about hydraulics, drilling and deep ocean work to jump to conclusions on what "could" or "should" have been done by now. It is one mile down, reachable only by small robots. It takes two months in the geology there, to drill a normal hole, much less a relief well having to angle in from a non vertical line.

The drilling consists of multiple concentric pipes, starting with a casing, and then having smaller pipes inside. The bottom of the hole pipe was reported to be six inches in diameter.

What happened was a common accident of drilling, a "kick" of liquids or gases under high pressure mixed with oil. In this case seals isolating the inner pipe from outer pipes failed, allowing high pressure materials to come up the wrong pipe and escape onto the drilling platform when the blowout device failed to close. In over 40 years, this is the first large failure of this type near the U.S. coast. That is out of 6,000 Gulf wells!

@Nicole, are you ready to pay $10 a gallon for your car fuel?

Drilling must continue, to provide jobs for the people of the Gulf states. Just because one airplane crashes, we don't ground all types of airplanes! Just because there are several Toyota acceleration failures, we don't take all Toyota cars, much less all cars, off the road!

When one commuter train crashes we don't stop all subways and elevated trains or railroads.

The other factor is the cold at the bottom of the ocean, being about 4 degrees C, causing methane to freeze under certain pressure conditions, and of course, the bottom of the ocean is under high pressure of the water above.

8.  kerry said on June 10, 2010

@Nicole is correct. so is @Magidion. @AAS is not, of course.

9.  Doug Harber said on June 10, 2010

@Nicole, We all might be well advised to keep BP IN BUSINESS so they can afford to pay for this mess. A company out of business starts ejecting the Golden Parachutes and the culprits retire to a nice life. Reasonble and just fines plus clean-up costs can be handled and paid for by a company that is still solvent, and make it possible for a Board of Directors to reduce compensation to the uppity-ups responsible for this. That might be the only way to get our pound of flesh out of this.

10.  cenan said on June 10, 2010

Using @aas' logic: Buy foreign oil so they will have funds to terrorize the U.S. and/or stop using oil to generate electricity so all the electric cars can recharge their non-polluting engines how?

@aas: Your solution is what?

11.  cenan said on June 10, 2010

Criticism is easy, solutions are hard. Where have all the solutions gone? Where are you in this scale? The challenge is: Solve a problem, not be part of a problem. Is that corny or true?

12.  cenan said on June 10, 2010

13.  JMatte said on June 10, 2010

How short-sided or ignorant some people are. This has been a "perfect storm" scenario for BP. If you want those affected to be compensated and for BP to not go bankrupt you need to keep buying BP's products so they will have the profits to compensate those who have been damaged. If BP goes under, the federal government via our taxes will be paying to clean up this mess, and you know what a great job they have not done in a crisis. We need to keep BP viable so they can pay for this mess. Why has this turned into a political issue? That just complicates things and hurts the Gulf Coast more. The federal government with its drilling moratorium is putting people out of work during a bad economy. They need to step up inspections and oversight to make sure this does not happen again.

14.  al dicristofaro said on June 10, 2010

I find the most appalling part of this tragedy that the government has not yet taken a single action that would require the same type of "fail-safe" mechanisms on other platforms in the Gulf such as those that Europeans impose on their deep-sea rigs. If another explosion -- or a hurricane -- causes another one of these wells to fail, it will be a sad day for us all.

15.  Will said on June 10, 2010

The use of the super (cloud) computer to analyze the situation is unbelievably futuristic. About the bellyaching, well you naysayers can do your part to lessen the drain on fossil energy by not using anything that uses that energy! Go back to your "victory" gardens. No A/C, no electricity, no car(s), I'm sure you have more than one. Will

16.  jjjohnnie Floyd said on June 10, 2010

BP made two cuts and really butchered the second one. They made a connection that really is leaky. Can someone tell me why you could not drop an internally tapered collar over the outside of the bolted flange just below the #2 cut and make a metal-to-metal seal that would be much better than whatever they have now.

Or if the flange is unbolted, and the cut part allowed to leave the scene, that would expose a flat surface with good surface finish against which a face seal could be made. With or without an elastomet seal would be much better than what's there now.

Can anyone tell me how comments can get to whoever makes decision about what BP is going to do next?

If these comments have been made before, pardon the comments. J Floyd

17.  cynthia sembower said on June 10, 2010

Is there a way for the public to access the results of the simulation?

18.  Don Weintritt said on June 10, 2010

If one of your children accidentally dropped a glass of orange juice on the floor, do you punish the child the same way as if he deliberately threw the glass of juice to the floor?

Of course not. The BP blowout was an accident. A terrible tragedy to be sure but still an accident. Human folly shows up in every generation worldwide. I should not have to remind those most critical of BP that their hands are not clean of error.

To put the magnitude of the accident in perspective I recently read in National Geographic that 100 million birds a year are killed or injured by collisions with tall buildings due to light pollution.

19.  James Schneider said on June 10, 2010

I wonder if they are modeling the plume of distributed oil particles that, apparently, remains far below the surface and accounts for a quite large fraction of the oil that has been released. It seems not, from this press release. The emphasis seems to be on surface oil.

20.  T.P.C said on June 10, 2010

Can we view these 3-D models? One good hurricane and the states to the north of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi are going to have lots of tar balls come their way. This disaster has just started and Florida and the Keys are going to be future tar pits. T.P.

21.  fb said on June 10, 2010

@JMatte, do you work for BP? I think so. Will we go under if we lose one oil company? I do not think so. We will be better off without BP. So will Texas, Washington state, Alaska and Canada. That's the BP trouble ticket so far.

22.  valerie Richardson said on June 10, 2010

You can bet your bottom dollar that in the mix will be the Queen and her share. Already learned Haliburton was there and probably the usual suspects.

23.  Val said on June 10, 2010

Could you explain the resolution of currents in a 3-D context that are inputs to your model? Also, to what extent can your models address the release at 5,000 feet and how it will be transported and diffused? In short, can you model the plumes?

24.  UTwitty said on June 11, 2010

@Nicole - What you don't realize is that fixing problems like this takes time. The energy industry has gotten more efficient at drilling wells because they have years of practice. This event is the first (and hopefully, only) of its kind and multiple attempts were made to try and find an immediate solution. The idea you suggested of a containment dome being placed to "suck up" the oil was attempted without much success. When you're dealing with extreme pressures, it's not so simple. I am not supporting BP in anyway here, I just want to try and explain that mobilizing an effort like this takes time.

@dicristofaro - What are these "fail-safe" mechanisms you mention that Europe requires and the U.S. does not? The U.S. requires blow-out preventers, flare stacks and multiple fail-safe valves on everything. Companies are harshly fined during MMS safety inspections if they are not up to par.

While this is a horrible tragedy, we cannot simply do away with offshore drilling. What people forget is that the Gulf Coast is just as dependent on the oil/gas industry than it is with fishing/wildlife/environmental issues. The amount of money the oil industry has given back to the communities it operates in the Gulf Coast numbers well into the millions. The amount of people that work in the energy industry in the Gulf Coast is in the tens of thousands. If we quit drilling offshore, thousands of jobs will be lost and millions of dollars from the oil/gas industry will not be reinvested in the communities they are currently located.

While I agree that the only way to lessen our dependence on oil is for the government to make green energy a higher priority, the same people who want green energy also don't want to pay anything more for it. We all saw what happened when gas prices sky-rocketed not two years ago. What do you think will happen if we quit drilling offshore?

25.  julie said on June 11, 2010

In response to Don: BP is not a child. This happened because of cost cutting, filling with seawater instead of mud and concrete. Also, they were not prepared for this. The required safety plan (which got by government officials) was a cut and paste from an Alaskan safety plan (included walrus and seals) and the delicate wetlands of the Gulf were not considered. Their safety record is awful (re: Texas City plant explosion), much worse than any other oil company. They have not been truthful about the amount of oil gushing out. There is a pattern of willful malfeasance here, not the innocence of a child.

26.  Faith Singer said on June 11, 2010

@James, Post #19: The emphasis right now is on surface oil because we don't have initial data on the 3-D extent of the oil plume.

@mrgardon, Post #1: Please check BP's Web site or contact BP directly.

To everyone who is asking to see the simulations: Our researchers are trying to have a Web site with this information up during the week of June 14. Stay tuned.

27.  Joseph Allen Kozuh, Ph.D. said on June 12, 2010

The U.S. government also ... at fault ... !

Most Americans are assuming that British Petroleum (BP) is 100 percent liable (1) for the oil-well explosion of April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, and (2) for all damages associated with this ongoing oil well disaster.

However, an objective investigation of this disaster has not yet taken place. And any objective investigation will need to answer the following 10 questions:

(1) Who owns the LAND where this deep-water drilling took place?
(2) Who owns the OIL that has been gushing from this deep-water well?
(3) Who approved ALL the drilling proposals and specifications?
(4) Who approved ALL the drilling equipment and procedures?
(5) Who REGULATED each step in the drilling operation?
(6) Who granted waiver after waiver to the drillers of this oil well?
(7) Who is ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE for protecting the U.S. Gulf coast and U.S. Gulf waters?
(8) Who should have required the existence of a VIABLE DISASTER RECOVERY PLAN before any deep-water drilling took place, in order to avoid the current "trial and error spectacle"?
(9) Who has chronically failed to require VIABLE DISASTER RECOVERY PLANS for deep-water drilling in the Gulf?
(10) Who is ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE for coordinating a comprehensive response to a major disaster involving the U.S. Gulf Coast and U.S. Gulf waters?

CONCLUSION: The honest answer to each of the above 10 questions is ... the U.S. government. Therefore, the U.S. government must also be held financially liable and criminally liable for this oil well disaster.

28.  Toronto Butcher said on Aug. 9, 2010

Waiting for the result of the simulation.


Lisa Miller