Observing Systems Assist in Spill Response

On Tuesday May 19, a ruptured pipeline caused thousands of gallons of crude oil to be released into the ocean along the Santa Barbara coast near Refugio State Beach.  As the clean up continues, state and federal emergency responders are relying on data from California ocean observing systems.


Automated under water robots are assisting with the response.  CeNCOOS and SCCOOS (our Southern California counterpart) operate ocean gliders that monitor the ocean below the surface.  SCCOOS, in partnership with researchers at the Scripp's Institute of Oceanography, are operating one of these gliders very near the spill site.  Real-time data from gliders give spill responders information on subsurface water movements and other information that may affect clean-up efforts. Learn more

Surface Current Measurements

CeNCOOS and SCCOOS operate a network of instruments along the California coastline that tracks the movement of ocean surface water. These measurements help spill response managers predict where the oil plume is likely to travel. Instrument operators in the Santa Barbara region are working closely with the incident command center to ensure they have the information they need, including products like the spill simulator displayed here.  In addition to the permanent instrumentation in the area, another emergency response station has been deployed near the site of the spill by Libe Washburn (SCCOOS principal investigator) and his team at UC Santa Barbara. This station provides additional higher resolution surface current measurements to emergency responders.

View Surface Current Maps

Ocean Forecasts

Information from these instruments contributes to forecasts of water and oil movement.  Three day forecasts of ocean conditions are provided by the California Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS), which is also supported by SCCOOS and CeNCOOS. Forecasts like the ROMS model are another tool available to emergency responders and help in planning where to focus clean up efforts.

For updates on the Refugio spill response, visit:

Refugio response information site