MODSIM-ple Solutions



With the oil spill capped, now comes the aftermath waiting game and the search for solutions. The answer could all be in Modeling & Simulation.

Bookmark and Share Written by By Kim Cuachon-Haugh

It usually takes a gargantuan calamity before we wake up and realize that our preparedness is not as up to date as we initially thought and that changes need to be made.  Sadly, the BP oil spill is being regarded as a lesson learned and is now the model for the next oil spill. Given that one third of drilling is done at the 3,500-foot platform, an evolution from the original 15-foot stand back in 1938, the next disaster might be only a matter of time.

Today, response teams are dumbfounded as the only point of reference for such an occurrence is the 1989 Exxon Valdez wreck which dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska;  a mere fraction of the Deepwater Horizon.  Now the eyes are on the scientists and computer whizzes as to what we do with dated algorithms, research findings from 21 years ago and pages and pages of hypotheses that are being reviewed and re-reviewed.  Many see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that beacon of hope is through Modeling and Simulation (M&S). 

You may not have heard of M&S before, but you have experienced it.  Video games, 3-D models, and computer models all fall under M&S.  What you may not be aware of is that Hampton Roads is the third largest region practicing and studying M&S in the United States.  Flight simulation center Hangar ’09 is a prime example of this.  With that said, this year’s MODSIM World and Conference Expo was held at the Virginia Beach Convention Center (it is slated that the 2011 conference will be held there as well). 

The conference finished off with a plenary session that presented M&S as the “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” for what happened in the Gulf.  172 million gallons of crude oil later, scientists and respondents are playing catch up towards the effects of the oil dispersants that are being used along with the transportation and fate of the oil.  The chemistry of dispersants in deepwater is still a question, according to panelist Dr. Mustafa S. Altinakar, Director of Research and Professor at the National Center for Computational Hydroscience and Engineering of the University of Mississippi in Oxford.  Altinakar also added that modeling would increase the efficiency of cleaning techniques and determine toxicity levels. But scientists are just at the beginning. 
So, as BP tries to lull us all with their ads, the internal bleeding in the Gulf continues.  The oil on the surface has stopped but, as Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution discovered, there are plumes of oil 3,600 feet deep, 20 miles long, and 1 mile wide that cannot be ignored.  The real truth, according to Dr. Altinakar, is that, “we went into drilling very deep without any knowledge.  There was not a contingency for an event this significant.”

As Hampton Roaders, we should take our great enthusiasm of M&S and play beat cop on the post BP Oil Spill efforts.  With the Commonwealth’s desire to see an oil rig off the Virginia coast, as the Honorable Terrie L. Suit disclosed on the panel, M&S will serve as a means to properly address the public in the event of an oil spill. It will show how it will affect our tourism and marine industry, and overall economic impact, along with how to respond and when to respond.  It’s all about being efficient and realistic, as the Hon. Suit said, “We can’t just keep talking about [the solutions]; we have to exercise it.”

For more information on next year’s MODSIM World Conference & Expo, visit

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