Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The shape of things to come

13.03.2012
Mathematical methods help predict movement of oil and ash following environmental disasters

When oil started gushing into the Gulf of Mexico in late April 2010, friends asked George Haller whether he was tracking its movement. That's because the McGill engineering professor has been working for years on ways to better understand patterns in the seemingly chaotic motion of oceans and air. Meanwhile, colleagues of Josefina Olascoaga in Miami were asking the geophysicist a similar question. Fortunately, she was.

For those involved in managing the fallout from environmental disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it is essential to have tools that predict how the oil will move, so that they make the best possible use of resources to control the spill. Thanks to work done by Haller and Olascoaga, such tools now appear to be within reach. Olascoaga's computational techniques and Haller's theory for predicting the movement of oil in water are equally applicable to the spread of ash in the air, following a volcanic explosion.

"In complex systems such as oceans and the atmosphere, there are a lot of features that we can't understand offhand," Haller explains. "People used to attribute these to randomness or chaos. But it turns out, when you look at data sets, you can find hidden patterns in the way that the air and water move." Over the past decade, the team has developed mathematical methods to describe these hidden structures that are now broadly called Lagrangian Coherent Structures (LCSs), after the French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange.

"Everyone knows about the Gulf Stream, and about the winds that blow from the West to the East in Canada," says Haller, "but within these larger movements of air or water, there are intriguing local patterns that guide individual particle motion." Olascoaga adds, "Though invisible, if you can imagine standing in a lake or ocean with one foot in warm water and the other in the colder water right beside it, then you have experienced an LCS running somewhere between your feet."

"Ocean flow is like a busy city with a network of roads," Haller says, "except that roads in the ocean are invisible, in motion, and transient." The method Haller and Olascoaga have developed allows them to detect the cores of LCSs. In the complex network of ocean flows, these are the equivalent of "traffic intersections" and they are crucial to understanding how the oil in a spill will move. These intersections unite incoming flow from opposite directions and eject the resulting mass of water. When such an LCS core emerges and builds momentum inside the spill, we know that oil is bound to seep out within the next four to six days. This means that the researchers are now able to forecast dramatic changes in pollution patterns that have previously been considered unpredictable.

So, although Haller wasn't tracking the spread of oil during the Deepwater Horizon disaster, he and Olascoaga were able to join forces to develop a method that does not simply track: it actually forecasts major changes in the way that oil spills will move. The two researchers are confident that this new mathematical method will help those engaged in trying to control pollution make well-informed decisions about what to do.

For an abstract of the paper just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: http://www.pnas.org/

The research was funded by: the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NASA, BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Contacts:

Katherine Gombay
Katherine.gombay@mcgill.ca
Relations avec les médias | Media Relations
Université McGill | McGill University
T. 514-398-2189
http://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/
http://twitter.com/#!/McGilluMedia
Barbra Gonzalez
barbgo@miami.edu
Communications, Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Studies
Univeristy of Miami
T. 305-421-4704
http://www.rsmas.miami.edu/newsroom/

Katherine Gombay | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mcgill.ca

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Upcycling of PET Bottles: New Ideas for Resource Cycles in Germany
25.06.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Betriebsfestigkeit und Systemzuverlässigkeit LBF

nachricht Dry landscapes can increase disease transmission
20.06.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>