Hot Springs and Oil Spills

May 23, 2010

It has been a bit over three months since I’ve added a post, a gap that I’ll explain eventually.  But I was inspired yesterday when I searched out what I knew was coming…this opinion piece in the New York Times:

“The Measure of a Disaster…On Thursday, BP was finally forced to acknowledge that far more oil is escaping from its damaged well into the Gulf of Mexico than the oft-repeated estimate of 5,000 barrels per day…”

I knew it was coming for Tim Crone is the third author.  Tim completed his Ph.D. working with my colleague William Wilcock.  The three of us collaborated on one chapter of Tim’s dissertation developing the methods that Tim used in his analysis of the continuing discharge from the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout.  More recently we wrote a paper applying these methods to understand the connection of earthquakes and flow of hot water from seafloor hot springs.

Despite BP’s public stance that knowing the rate of discharge wouldn’t change the response being taken:

“Without knowing the flow’s true magnitude, how can anyone judge the success of any approach? Without determining how much oil is beneath the ocean’s surface and how much is floating toward land, how can we best direct response efforts?”

And so I am glad (and proud) that Tim was able to use our past efforts as a way for helping address this pressing environmental problem.  Indeed, what the four co-authors of the op-ed hold in common are knowledge of disparate tools and approaches that are widely adaptable.   Their experience speaks to the importance of basic research.  Often curiosity-driven, basic research may not always lead somewhere or ever be applied to societal needs.  But when it unexpectedly becomes a foundation of responding to crisis, it validates the investment in expanding knowledge for its own sake.  Equally it speaks to what our “Research I” (Carnegie RU/VH) universities must be doing for the environment, the best science possible.