December 21, 2005
Contact: Frank Smith
A University of Massachusetts Dartmouth oceanographer has been funded by the Brazilian government to co-develop a system to predict ocean circulation in the waters north of Rio de Janeiro, a promising region for oil development.
The Brazilian national research foundation, Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico (CNPq), awarded the two-year research grant to Prof. Avijit Gangopadhyay, of the UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST), and his Brazilian collaborator, Prof. Ilson da Silveira of the University of Sao Paulo. The funding is to support the development of a prototype coastal ocean prediction system for the South Brazil Bight.
“We saw the need and the potential for such a system three years ago,” says Gangopadhyay, “and we’ve been developing our plan ever since. We’re gratified that CNPq recognizes the value of our methodology for forecasting ocean flow patterns where actual observations are few and far between.”
Dubbed SPOC, for “Sistema de Previso Ocenica e Costeira” (Oceanic and Coastal Prediction System), the proposed modeling system will employ so-called “feature-oriented” methodology to generate the most detailed circulation predictions for an area which is lacking in ocean observations. Gangopadhyay, along with Allan Robinson of Harvard, has led the development of feature-oriented modeling over the past decade.
In Brazil as elsewhere, as oil exploration moves into deeper water, capital risk is increasing and so is the criticality of understanding the circulation regime that vessels, rigs, and platforms will have to contend with. The best path to that understanding yet devised is via a mathematical model of the circulation in the area being explored or harvested.
But numerical ocean models rely on the coverage of the ocean basin of interest by actual physical measurements. The price tag for collecting such measurements can be prohibitively expensive, even for wealthy countries.
“We can minimize this expensive requirement,” explains Gangopadhyay, “using our FORMS [feature-oriental regional modeling system] technology, which incorporates persistent ocean features such as currents, eddies, jets, etc., as identified by satellites. The result is a very efficient means of simulating the flow patterns on an ocean shelf with a paucity of available observations.”
Silveira and Gangopadhyay have been laying the groundwork for SPOC for several years with exchange visits. Last year, Silveira’s doctoral student spent 10 months at SMAST helping to apply the FORMS to the Atlantic waters off south-central Brazil. In September, Gangopadhyay and Robinson traveled to Brazil to discuss the development of SPOC with colleagues from the University of Sao Paulo, the Brazilian Navy, and the Brazilian oil company Petrobras.
The Brazilian Navy, which will operate SPOC once it is developed, will begin sending personnel to SMAST for training in 2007. Petrobras, which is expected to be a principal beneficiary of SPOC, will support a post-doctoral researcher from Silveira’s laboratory to work with the Navy in the setup and initial operation of the model. Silveira will arrive at SMAST in February for a three-week visit to begin planning the first year of SPOC development.
Gangopadhyay’s Ocean Modeling and Analysis Laboratory is involved in applying FORMS models to ocean basins around the world, with funding from NASA, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Science Foundation. To date, FORMS has been applied to the western North Atlantic (including the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank region), Monterey Bay and the California Current system, the Strait of Sicily, and the Arabian Sea.