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Hardy buoys: Texas A&M project predicts oil spill movements

COLLEGE STATION, Sept. 15, 2004 - In these days when it costs nearly $50 a barrel, spilled oil - unlike milk - could be worth crying about, especially in Texas.

A team of Texas A&M University researchers has developed - and continues to refine - a system of buoys in the Gulf of Mexico that can accurately predict the movement of oil spills. Such spills can present Texas-sized problems, both environmentally and economically, to the state's coastline.

The buoys can even be used to locate ship passengers who have been lost overboard. Also, two years ago the buoys were instrumental in helping to retrieve the Ehime Maru, a Japanese vessel that was accidentally sunk by a U.S. submarine practicing quick-surfacing drills off the coast of Hawaii.

Norman Guinasso Jr., who serves as project manager of the Texas Automated Buoy System (TABS), part of the College of Geosciences' Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG) at Texas A&M, says the buoy system has already saved Texas taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and has served as a model for other universities that are developing similar buoys to detect pollution such as oil spills.

"This is the only buoy system of its kind in the Gulf of Mexico and one of the few of its kind in the world," Guinasso says of the TABS project.

"The instruments on each buoy can tell us precise information about ocean currents, wind speed, water temperature and other data that allows to accurately predict where a spill is headed and when it will present a problem to the coastline."

Each buoy is capable of relaying that information to a constellation of satellites orbiting the Earth, and that information in turn is transferred down to GERG's headquarters in College Station - located about 150 miles from the Texas coast. Information is received by GERG's computers every few hours, 24 hours a day, Guinasso explains, allowing researchers and government agencies to project accurately where
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Contact: Keith Randall
kr@univrel.tamu.edu
979-845-4644
Texas A&M University
15-Sep-2004


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