When I first heard about the difficulties of stopping the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I thought, “Seriously? There’s no plan here? You never tested disaster scenarios?” It’s as if they thought it could never happen. If there’s an emergency, you have a plan. My office has a plan for fire drills, for example. Well, they never ran a fire drill. And it seems that one of the factors that makes stopping this leak so difficult is the sheer depth of the spill at 5,000 feet below sea level. As the Christian Science Monitor reports, “BP has once again acknowledged that this process has never been attempted at this depth before.” New technologies have allowed us to drill deeper and deeper wells, but the disaster prevention technologies have not kept up at the same pace (no surprise there).
On to the maps: I was shocked when I saw this map displaying the number of oil rigs that currently dot the Gulf of Mexico. Searching around a bit, I was able to find the data used to create this map at a Minerals Management Service mapping site. I wanted to look at this data a bit differently, attempting to visualize the depths of each rig. So I gathered some bathymetry data from British Oceanographic Data Centre, available here. For each of the rig locations, I applied a depth, then displayed the rigs as graduated symbols; increased sizes for deeper waters. Taking a closer look at the rig data, I noticed the database contained information about installation dates. I figured that not only could I visualize the depth of the rigs, but I could also display the data temporally. And as suspected, what I found was that the deepest rigs were installed most recently. And the Deepwater Horizon is NOT the deepest rig we have out there. In describing the data and map to my wife, she suggested that I show an animation of the installations. And I believe this is the most effective (and terrifying) way of displaying this information. Okay, no more words…here are the maps: