Future Research: South Atlantic Data Needs and Opportunities

The South Atlantic Sea Grant programs continue to identify questions and data needs surrounding the potential movement of oil into the Gulf Stream and beyond. For example: What are the effects of surface oil on heat flux and wind forcing? What are the effects of the chemical dispersants on oil characteristics, such as density and buoyancy?

Several tools could come into play to track the spread of the Gulf oil:

  • Data on movement of surface oil could be gathered from radar, including from several units now in place along the South Atlantic Coast. Additional radar coverage could improve tracking ability for this crisis and for future needs.
  • “Gliders” are robotic instruments that collect data below the surface. Gliders are currently being used to evaluate conditions in the Gulf of Mexico and similar units could be used to gather data in South Atlantic waters.
  • Flotsam is a term for items that are carried in the currents. A program that would monitor the movement of Sargassum seaweed or Portuguese man-of-war sightings in nearshore waters could provide alerts that waters from the Gulf Stream would be moving inshore.
  • Private boat owners could also help with data collection efforts. “Ships of Opportunity” is a program in which captains and crews are trained as observers of changing conditions and in the collecting of samples that would meet federal scientific protocols.
  • Computerized ocean models could also be expanded. Existing three-dimensional models can be refined to improve the 72-hour predictions for movement of oil in the Loop Current and Gulf Stream.

The Deepwater Horizon oil event brings unique challenges for many fields of research. Scientists in the South Atlantic states are adapting methods and looking for new or better tools to learn about location, condition and expected movement of the oil, in order to provide the best science-based information to the public and government leaders.

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Last Updated: July 12, 2010

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