Measuring Disaster: the magnitude of the BP oil spill

By Steve Wereley

Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

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BP Oil Spill top hat image On May 13 Professor Wereley used optical feature tracking to estimate the volume flow of oil from the on-going BP Macondo oil field spill. Several other independent scientists also performed similar measurements at about the same time. These several measurements were all in the ball park of 20,000-100,000 barrels per day--greatly in excess of the estimates provided by BP of 5,000 barrels per day. The unforeseen effect of these first independent flow rate calculations was to bring the issue of oil flow rate to the fore. Wereley was subsequently appointed to a government task force called the Flow Rate Technical Group to calculate an official government flow rate estimate. The group arrived at an official, government-sanctioned estimate of 35,000-60,000 barrels of oil per day after requesting and receiving better quality and longer videos of the oil flow. This presentation/discussion will center on those calculations, their limitations, their improvement and their future uses in this on-going disaster.


Steve Wereley Professor Wereley completed his masters (1992) and doctoral (1997) research at Northwestern University. He is currently Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University where he has been working since 1999. His current research interests focus on fluid flows in microscopic domains, commonly known as microfluidics. Professor Wereley is the co-author of Fundamentals and Applications of Microfluidics (Artech House, 2002 and 2006) and Particle Image Velocimetry: A Practical Guide (Springer, 2007). The latter book led to his involvement with the oil spill because a central issue in the oil spill debate is the flow rate of the oil.

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  • Steve Wereley (2010), "Measuring Disaster: the magnitude of the BP oil spill,"

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Mechanical Engineering, Rm 161, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN