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UT News

Scientists, engineers and researchers contribute expertise to catastrophic BP oil spill

As oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, The University of Texas at Austin is marshaling its expertise to respond.

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As oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, The University of Texas at Austin is marshaling its expertise to respond.

Engineers, scientists, researchers and other experts at the university are involved in a variety of efforts. They are modeling what could happen if a hurricane hits the oil spill, providing real-time satellite imagery to national agencies and tracking the oil spill and environmental impact into the marshes and wetlands.

They are also providing petroleum engineering calculations that estimate the amount of escaping oil, determining the cause and appropriate technical response to prevent future catastrophes and studying how the oil spill will ultimately affect fishes and the Gulf’s ecosystems.

This resource highlights the university’s response to the Gulf oil spill as the situation evolves — presenting up-to-date news and information on the areas where the university has specific expertise and is making an impact.


UT’s Gulf Response by Topic

Environmental Impact

Scientists Produce 3-D Models of BP Oil Spill in Gulf Using Ranger Supercomputer | June 3, 2010

Aerospace Engineering Professor Clint Dawson from the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences is using the Ranger supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center to produce 3-D simulations of the impact of BP’s massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill on coastal areas. The simulations will help scientists determine how the oil may spread in environmentally sensitive areas.

Environmental Remediation

After the oil is no longer leaking… | June 28, 2010

A well-considered editorial penned by Danny Reible, professor of environmental engineering, warned against rash action based on media reports and used the deepwater oil well blowout as a demonstration of the need for research into environmental response and recovery. Reible is a subcommittee member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board.

Gulf Ecosystems and Fisheries

The Hunt for Oil Plumes | July 12, 2010

Tracy Villareal, professor of marine science, will serve as chief scientist on a research cruise this August into the Gulf of Mexico to study the impacts of the oil spill on phyto- and zooplankton communities and map deepwater oil plumes.

Marine Scientist Studies Oil Spill Effects on Oxygen Levels in the Gulf | June 14, 2010

Zhanfei Liu, from the Marine Science Institute, is studying the effects of the BP oil spill on oxygen levels in an area in the northern Gulf of Mexico known as the “Dead Zone.” Low oxygen levels affect fish reproduction and fishing economies, and Liu expects the oil spill will enhance low oxygen in the Gulf. 

Hurricane Modeling

Getting Ahead of the Spill | Aug. 2, 2010

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and the University of Notre Dame Dawson studied the specific dynamics of the Gulf’s tides, currents and wave systems to predict the oil spill’s movements and landfall. By getting ahead of the spill, and forecasting the possible impact of a hurricane, the researchers hope to protect lives and property and avert an environmental disaster.

Important Insights to Gulf Oil Spill Gleaned from Modeling Past Hurricanes | July 20, 2010

Aerospace Engineering Professor Clint Dawson from the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences is one step closer to understanding what might happen if a hurricane hits the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Dawson and his collaborators are using the ADCIRC code on the Ranger supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center to model past hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike to see how a hurricane could affect the region. Advanced computing is critical to this research process.

Oil and Gas Drilling

Petroleum Engineer Aids Spill Estimates | June 28, 2010

Paul Bommer, a petroleum engineering faculty member, is the only petroleum engineer in the Flow Rate Technical Group appointed by the federal government to estimate the oil flow from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil well. As a member of the “plume team,” Bommer has provided calculations to estimate the escaping oil.

Tad Patzek Briefs U.S. Congress on Oil Spill | June 28, 2010

Tad Patzek, chair of petroleum and geosystems engineering, gave a briefing on June 9 to the U.S. Congressional Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, where he explained the blowout of the BP exploratory well in terms of complexity, technology and science, and argued that organizational structures and human behavior have not kept pace with the complex technologies engineers and scientists have created.


Energy Institute Public Forum | May 18, 2010

The Energy Institute held a public forum to bring together university experts in petroleum engineering, geology, law, business and the environment. Panelists discussed the technical cause and control of the accident, as well as the environmental damage and its legal and financial issues.

Satellite Imagery

UT Engineering Faculty, Researchers Consulted on Oil Spill

Center for Space Research Engineer Gordon Wells quickly responded to the disaster by providing real-time satellite images of the oil spill to the 30 national and local relief agencies. Using the center’s three rooftop antennas that receive regular satellite photos from the 14 American and international satellites passing over the Gulf, Wells can provide images three hours faster than NASA.


Selected Media Coverage of UT’s Gulf Response

Fox 7’s “Good Day Austin” | Interview with Clint Dawson about UT’s Ranger supercomputer | Aug. 3, 2010

The Associated Press| Oil unleashed temporarily in attempt to contain it | July 10, 2010

CNN Money | Blowout Preventers Fail More Often Than People Realize | June 30, 2010

American Public Media-Marketplace | Lessons of oil spills past not learned | June 28, 2010

Houston Chronicle | Inexperience on rig called a factor | June 23, 2010

Business Week | BP Reinstalls Cap on Gulf Oil Leak, Intercept Well on Track | June 23, 2010

The Washington Post | Each day, another way to define worst-case for oil spill | June 23, 2010

Bloomberg News | BP Spill May Be Less Than Doomsayers Think | June 22, 2010

Austin American-Statesman | Gulf oil spill keeping UT researchers busy | June 21, 2010

Houston Chronicle | Along the Texas coast, they’ve lived this before | June 20, 2010

The Washington Post | Experts see how-not-to book emerging from oil spill cleanup; Avoidable mistakes blamed for making hard job even harder | June 18, 2010

USA Today | Collecting 90% of escaping crude is within possibility | June 18, 2010

Voice of America News | United States Gulf Oil Spill Tests Obama’s Political Skill | June 18, 2010

The Washington Post | Reemphasizing value of duplicate safety systems; Flawed backup may be more dangerous than no plan, engineers say | June 17, 2010

NPR | Rig Explosion is a Byproduct of Complex Systems | June 16, 2010

New York Times | In Case of Storm, Spill Containment And Relief Drilling Could Be Suspended | June 14, 2010

International Science Grid This Week | BP oil spill: Scientists mobilize to create new disaster response science | June 9, 2010

The Associated Press | Gulf oil leak may be bigger than BP says | June 8, 2010

The Associated Press | Professor: Spill Flow May Be Higher Than Estimates | June 8, 2010

Christian Science Monitor | After oil spill cleanup, will we tighten the laws? | June 7, 2010

New York Times | At Issue in Gulf: Who Was in Charge? | June 6, 2010

NPR | On Point: Drastic Measures for the Gulf | June 3, 2010

IEEE Spectrum (podcast) | Eye of the Oil Slick? | June 2010

New York Times | BP Tries Again to Divert Oil Leak With Dome | June 1, 2010

Wall Street Journal | BP Set to Try Risky Move to Contain Flow | June 1, 2010

| Austin Center Helps in Oil Spill Fight | May 28, 2010

InformationWeek | Supercomputer Builds 3D Model of Gulf Oil Spill | May 28, 2010

Computerworld | Researchers race to produce 3D models of BP oil spill | May 26, 2010

New York Times | What the Spill Means for Offshore Drilling | April 29, 2010


More Gulf Response Resources from UT

Gulf Science | Marine Science Institute
Research expertise related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill


More Stories about UT’s Gulf Response

Mapping the Gulf Oil Spill | July 9, 2010
From Tower Talk, the blog by President William Powers Jr.

UT researchers map oil spill destruction | June 10, 2010
From the Know Web site

Mapping a hurricane before it strikes | June 3, 2010
From the Know Web site