Circulation Modeling

Improving ocean circulation models to better inform oil spill trajectory models

September 6, 2022


The movement of spilled oil depends on the wind speed and direction, as well as the ocean currents. Because direct measurements of ocean currents are rare, it is important to have good circulation models to inform the oil spill trajectory efforts. The circulation models are also important for understanding how many marine species are likely to reestablish themselves after an oil spill.


A numerical ocean circulation model – based on the Princeton Ocean Model – was developed to provide high-resolution current estimates in Prince William Sound. The goal being to provide real-time currents. The model was forced by real-time measurements of winds and sea level, and bimonthly means of surface heat flux. The model results were compared to observations to validate the model performance. The model was then linked to the SINTEF Oil Spill Contingency and Response model.


The high-resolution model provided detailed spatial information on currents, temperature, and salinity throughout Prince William Sound. The modeling effort led to several papers written by Mooers, Bang, and Wu describing the model and model validation. Xinglong Wu’s Ph. D. dissertation also describes the model and modeling effort.