Visualizing the BP Oil Spill

An explosion on the BP operated Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed eleven crew members on April 20, 2010, sparking the greatest environmental disaster in United States history. In combination with the Texas City Refinery Explosion and the Prudohoe Bay Oil Spill, this marked the third serious incident involving BP in the United States in five years. Scientific estimates put the amount of oil that was being discharged from the broken well at above 1,470,000 US gallons per day!

There are over 400 different species of animals living in the area affected by the spill. 464 sea turtles and 60 dolphins were found dead within the spill area (NOAA). BP operated oil skimmers and other cleanup tools to try to remove oil from the water and Louisiana began building oil containment berms to halt the spread of oil. On July 15, 2010 BP sucesfully stopped the flow of oil from the wellhead, after spilling 190 million gallons of oil into the gulf over a period of 3 months.

This map shows the size of the BP Oil Spill in relation to The United States

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How do you know how big the spill is?

    The data used to create the spill image comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA released a daily report detailing where the spill is going to be within the next 24 hours. They did this by collecting data from a number of sources, including satellite imagery and reports by trained observers who have made helicopter flights back and forth across the potentially affected areas. This data is entered into several leading computer models by NOAA oceanographers along with information about currents and winds in the gulf.

  2. Why does the spill seem to change size as I move it?

    If you move the spill south of the gulf, without crossing the equator, you'll see it appear to shrink in size. If you move it North, it will appear to increase in size. The spill actually covers the same area on the map no matter where you place it, what changes is the map itself! Google Maps, and many maps we're used to looking at, use something called "Mercator Projection" in order to draw the spherical surface of the earth onto a flat plane. This projection distorts space as you move away from the equator in order to make the nice flat map you see. This means that a 100 square mile object placed at the equator will appear much smaller on the map than the same object placed closer to the poles. If you think about it, this makes sense -- if you were to wrap a string around the globe, you would need much more string to do so at the equator than you would further North, yet Google Maps portrays the Earth as a rectangle. You can read more about Mercator Projection on Wikipedia.

  3. When was this map last updated?

    July 19th, 2010. This was the date the spill was at its largest following the capping of the well.

  4. Did the oil really hurt anything?

    See for yourself.

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