Chaos in the Gulf

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Science  22 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6003, pp. 458-459
DOI: 10.1126/science.1197554

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The magnitude of the oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster has been estimated at more than 4.4 million barrels (1). The subsequent environmental impact will rely both on monitoring and on the ability to accurately model the dispersal of the oil. On page 486 of this issue, Mezić et al. (2) present a modeling study that describes how the oil dispersed and attempts to predict how the spill will evolve. The mechanism of dispersal is complex, a question of transport and mixing, along with a dose of evaporation and chemistry. Mixing forms an entire branch of study, one that is closely linked to dynamical systems—the mathematical study of time-evolving solutions of differential equations. In the context of fluid mechanics, this link was first recognized by Arnold (3), Henon (4), and later by Aref (5), and it essentially boils down to chaos.