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  • Writer's pictureArpit Shah

Mapping Ocean Currents to facilitate Oil Well Inspection

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

Ocean Current Representation using Dancing Coffee
Figure 1: Dancing Coffee & Ocean Current; Source:

It is remarkable how often one knows the appropriate amount of effort to exert while stirring a hot beverage. Just enough to dissolve the soluble ingredients and just enough to keep the drink sufficiently warm. You would have also observed the patterns formed on the beverage's surface by the act of stirring - circular waves, volatile on the edges and calmer towards the shallow centre.

And if by any chance, you'd have dipped your fingers to test the warmth of this mixture or your hands in a bucket of circulating warm water, you'd have felt the sensations - light and quick waves at the top, and a heavy and sucking force as we go deeper.

Ocean currents are scaled up, complex versions of the same phenomenon, stirred up to perfection by the omnipresent Mother Nature. Caused by winds and by earth's rotation, these 'gyres' play a vital role in regulating the water temperature, salinity & nutrient flow across the planet.

(You may refer to a previous article which involves an exploratory study on a related topic: Mapping the Sargassum Seaweed Invasion).

Major Ocean Currents on Earth
Figure 2: Major Ocean Currents on Earth; Source: By Dr. Michael Pidwirny (see -, [ image], Public Domain, E. Greenland + Labrador + Norwegian = Viking gyre Gulf stream + N. Atlantic Drift + Canary + N. Equatorial = Columbus gyre S. Equatorial + Brazil + South Atlantic + Benguela = Navigator gyre S. Indian + S. Equatorial + Mozambique + W. Australia = Majid gyre Alaska + N. Pacific + Oyashio = Aloet gyre Kuroshio + N. Equatorial + California = Turtle gyre Peru + S. Pacific + E. Australia = Heyerdahl gyre Finally, a few gyres also exist at the poles (not shown at this map); these are: North Pole: Polar bear gyre, Storkerson gyre, Melville gyre South Pole: Penguin gyre References for the currents: Curtis Ebbesmeyer map at Wired

Asset Inspection is a fundamental task for any organization. Often in the purview of functional executives in Operations, Maintenance, Quality or HSE department, Inspection helps in utilizing the asset better by prolonging its life, detecting deterioration, preventing theft and promoting safety & well-being of manpower & environment in general.

While organizations are expected to take proactive measures towards inspection and maintenance of their assets, often they are compelled to do so by the regulations set forth by industry bodies, environmental organizations or by the government of the day.

The topic for this article's geo-workflow focuses on Asset (Oil Well) Inspection at Offshore locations. To lend some context - at offshore locations, oil is extracted from the ocean floor through floating vessels called Drillships or by stationary platforms called Oil Rigs.

Drill Ship and Oil Rig
Figure 3: Drillship (left) & Oil Rig (right) photos

ROUVs - Remotely Operated (Underwater) Vehicles are routinely deployed from vessels and rigs to inspect the oil well infrastructure underneath.

Figure 4: RO(U)V photos

The rationale for using ROUVs for inspection is straightforward - it can perform inspections a) of a wide variety, b) in a quick, accurate & safe manner, and c) at depths much beyond the reach of human divers. These principles hold true for any Asset Inspection use-case favoring machine over man, really.

While I have never seen offshore oil extraction operations and am not privy to their inspection / maintenance needs, but one can easily imagine it. Remote Locations, Flammable Fuel, Choppy Waters & Turbulent Weather would result in hostile operating conditions for both manpower and equipment - a situation which would demand stringent inspection measures. Having recently visited a coal-mine, I was exposed to the sensitivities involved in extracting natural resources from below the earth's surface. Strict guidelines set forth by the mine regulatory body and by the extracting company meant that the mining operations were very closely monitored, safety was given the highest priority and the management took a keen interest in understanding the latest technology in the geotechnical & geophysical domain which would help them map the sub-surface in a more accurate way enabling more efficient coal extraction process with minimum threat to manpower & the environment.


Therefore, when I came across the ocean-current mapping tutorial on Esri's Learn ArcGIS platform - it gave me an opportunity to learn more about the dynamics involved in the Deep Seas Oil Extraction industry as well as to know of one more utility in the long list of practical applications which an industrial-grade mapping software, location analytics platform or Geographic Information System (GIS) as it is known in common parlance, can conduct.

The Oceanic Oil Well Inspection walkthrough as captured in the video below revolves around a) mapping existing Oil Well Infrastructure at an offshore location in the Gulf of Mexico and b) loading Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM) - Ocean Current Forecasts. Thereafter, c) using 3D visualization and analysis techniques, we will see which windows are available for safe passage (descent & ascent) of ROUVs given its permissible operating limits impacted by the prevailing ocean current's velocity.

Specific sections covered in the video are as follows-

1) Loading the Oil Infrastructure & Multi-Dimensional Ocean Datasets

2) Data Organization & Manipulation

3) Data Visualization in 3D

4) Powerful Analytics to Determine ROUV Dive-Windows

Interesting isn't it? You may want to read another industry-specific use case here - Mapping Obstacles on Flight Path at Airport.



Intelloc Mapping Services | Mapmyops is engaged in providing mapping solutions to organizations which facilitate operations improvement, planning & monitoring workflows. These include but are not limited to Supply Chain Design Consulting, Drone Solutions, Location Analytics & GIS Applications, Site Characterization, Remote Sensing, Security & Intelligence Infrastructure, & Polluted Water Treatment. Projects can be conducted pan-India and overseas.

Several demonstrations for these workflows are documented on our website. For your business requirements, reach out to us via email - or book a paid consultation (video meet) from the hyperlink placed at the footer of the website's landing page.



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