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  • Writer's pictureArpit Shah

Mapping Ocean Currents to facilitate Oil Well Inspection

Updated: Sep 1, 2022


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 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 and 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; 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 / Maintenance is fundamental for any organization. Often in the purview of functional executives in Operations, Maintenance, Quality & HSE, Inspection helps in utilizing the asset better by prolonging its life, detecting deterioration, preventing theft and promoting safety & well-being of manpower and 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 government.

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 (left) and stationary platforms called Oil Rigs (right).

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

The rationale for using ROVs for inspection is straightforward - it can perform a a) wide variety of inspections, b) in a quick, accurate and safe manner, and c) at depths much beyond the reach of human divers. These principles hold true for any Asset Inspection 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. Remote Locations, Flammable Fuel, Turbulent Oceans & 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, though. Strict guidelines set forth by the mine regulatory body and by the 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 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 and environment.


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

The Oceanic Oil Well Inspection walk-through as captured in the video below revolves around mapping existing Oil Well Infrastructure at an offshore location in the Gulf of Mexico and loading Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM) - Ocean Current Forecasts. Thereafter, using 3D visualization and analysis techniques, we will see which windows are available for safe passage (descent & ascent) of ROVs given its permissible operating limits pertaining to ocean current 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 ROV 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 products & services to organizations. These facilitate Operations improvement, planning & monitoring workflows and include but are not limited to Drone Services, Geo-Applications & Imagery Analytics.

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