Oceanographers Respond to Request for Help on Massive Oil Spill

12/6/2002 - 60-02r
Contact: Public Affairs Office, (202) 767-2541

When disaster struck off the coast of Spain and Portugal, researchers at Puertos del Estado in Madrid, Spain, called NRL's Oceanography Division at Stennis Space Center for help.

The tanker "Prestige" broke apart and sank in mid-November after pouring two million gallons of oil into the water. Although the spill occurred hundreds of miles off the coast, wind-driven currents moved the spill towards land. More than 250 miles of Spanish coastline were scarred by the oil.

CDR Raymond Robichaud, Military Deputy for NRL's Oceanography Division, received a call from Enrique Alvarez of the Spanish Bureau of Ports asking for surface currents from NRL's oceanographic models. Robichaud assembled a task force of management and modelers to address the problem and in less than four hours, Puertos del Estado was receiving model forecasts for the Spill Management Team.

Charlie Barron and Lucy Smedstad, from the Division's Ocean Dynamics and Prediction Branch, were the first to respond with currents from the Navy Coastal Ocean Model (NCOM). NRL continues to provide support during the clean-up effort through daily 72-hour forecasts of surface currents from NCOM. Mr. Alvarez, who operates a buoy network off the coast, stated that the output looked good and he was very grateful for the help.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) hazardous materials team noticed NRL's quick turnaround and requested the same support.

"They asked NRL for current forecasts as input to their Oil Spill Prediction Model," said Robichaud. NOAA will be supporting both the Spanish and Portuguese governments with the NRL-provided data.

Germana Peggion and Dan Fox, also from NRL's Ocean Dynamics and Prediction Branch, are working on an additional ocean model that provides a more detailed look at the currents. This model will run at a higher resolution than NCOM and use the higher resolution wind fields provided by the NRL Monterey developed Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Meteorological Prediction System (COAMPS TM) to force surface currents.

"We develop our models for Navy use," said Robichaud, "but any time we can use our technology to help others outside the Navy realm, we will."

Figure (1) This is a sample of NCOM Forecast provided to NOAA and Puertos del Estado. The color shadings represent changes in water temperature, and the vectors represent the direction and speed of the currents. The sample vector at the bottom is representative of a 50 cm/sec current, or 1 knot.

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