Experts on fluid mechanics should be able to get a real good estimate of the rate at which oil is leaking from the pipe on the ocean floor. We are told that estimates vary widely, so I’d like to see them try.

They might even be able to do it from videos of the leaking pipe. They’d need to know the diameter of the pipe, and perhaps have a better view of the plume coming from the pipe. Estimating some other factors (temperature of the water, viscosity of the oil, etc.) should permit a quick and dirty calculation far better than looking at satellite photos, as some are doing.

I can explain how I know this. Years back, I took an excellent course in fluid mechanics. The professor did not go through the derivation, but when we were studying streamlines, he explained how the famous hydrodynamicist, G.I.Taylor, was able to estimate the yield of an atomic bomb just from video recordings of the mushroom cloud.

(The professor went on to explain that Taylor got in some hot water for making this estimate, but perhaps things were being embellished to keep our interest. Despite its name, fluid mechanics can be a bit of a dry subject.)

Anyway, I’d think that estimating the flow rate of oil from this pipe would be a piece of cake for a good hydrodynamicist, far less difficult than Taylor’s analysis of the yield of a bomb.


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