Visualizing the Spill

Visualizing the Spill

This catastrophe has already demonstrated the raw catalytic power of visualization via heartbreaking, now-iconic images of oil-drenched wildlife, not to mention satellite imagery and the "spillcam" coverage that tracks the oil jetting from the seafloor. Without the widespread distribution of images like these, it seems doubtful that most individuals fortunate enough not to be in the immediate vicinity of the spill would be as concerned about its ecological effects.

We can do better. As powerful as they are, the images of dying birds and sea turtles, the distant abstractions of oil slicks from space, the grainy videos of the jetting plume from the deep--none can properly communicate the spill's severity and place it into historical context. None accurately convey just how much oil is flowing, and how this compares to prior spills.

Knowing--and communicating--the true magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon spill is vital not only for devising strategies to stanch the oil flow, but also for levying penalties for the parties responsible. The more oil that jets into the Gulf with each passing day, the more serious the problem and its financial and punitive repercussions should become. This, along with the spill's location beneath kilometers of water, perhaps explains the remarkable inconsistencies in oil-volume estimates over the spill's 2-month duration. From an initial flow estimation of perhaps 5,000 barrels per day, new calculations have placed the flow rate at between 20,000 to 40,000 barrels per day.

How would you quantitatively visualize the spill as compared to past gushers? Let us know by uploading your own visualization.

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