THE MOVEMENT OF OIL SPILLS
Henry G. Schwartzberg
School of Engineering and Science
New York University
The effects of winds, waves, and currents, and the physical properties of oil and water on the drift
rates of oil spills were studied in tests carried out in a combined water basin wind tunnel. On calm
water, oil drifted at a fairly constant percentage of the wind speed regardless of the nature and
spreading tendencies of the oil, the spill size, and water temperature, depth, and salinity. Percent
drift varied with wind tunnel height. Extrapolation to infinite height indicated that on calm open
water wind drift should be 3.7%.
Shallow water waves, which produced no significant drift themselves, reduced wind drift. Analysis
indicated that deep-water waves produced by the wind should produce significant drift,
complicating wind drift prediction, but the magnitude of the wind wave interaction effects is not yet
known. Test wind drifts and current drifts were found not to be directly additive.