Jun 30 2010

Disaster fiction premise – fuel-air hurricane bomb

Pseudo-Manitou on LJ just mentioned that tropical storm “Alex” has missed hitting the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and that there’s only 10 or 20 more such storms to come this year (the period of concern of course presumes the oil spill will have been dealt with this year).

Now the worrying idea has been put about that the higher than usual methane content of the oil (30% rather than 5%, IIRC) means there’s giant methane pocket down there, and the new leaks appearing through seabed cracks could mean the seabed is going to disintegrate, releasing the 50,000psi methane pocket in a gigantic explosion big enough to send a supersonic tsunami several hundred miles inland in a few minutes. And it throws in a secondary tsunami for free as the ice-cold deep-sea water meets hot and now empty underground cavern in a huge steam explosion. And of course there’s the added bonus of the giant methane death-cloud to wipe out any survivors and those beyond the waves reach.

But it occurs to me that we’re missing out another possible bit of disaster porn here; What if a huge tropical storm does hit the oil slick? Right through the middle where the oil concentration is at it’s highest? Well it’d suck up a lot of the oil into it’s high-speed winds, tearing it up into tiny particles. And since hurricanes have a wide range of pressure gradients, somewhere in that hurricane it’ll have the perfect ratio of fuel to air for combustion.

One flash of lightning and a fuel-air bomb the size of Texas explodes.

If you wanted to up the anté a bit furthur of course, consider the wild possibility of the hurricane passing directly over the leak site and igniting. Fresh fuel being pulled up at it’s least diluted source, 70% oil, 30% methane, a constant supply of cold air being pulled down the centre of the funnel from the upper atsmosphere. Why specify cold air? Because cold air is more compact, and contains more oxygen. And with the fire adding to the heat, the convection could well anchor the hurricane on the fuel source.

This could plausibly be the first time in history we see a hurricane catch fire. Or explode.

Of course, the ratios for effective fuel-air explosive mixtures are apparently pretty precise, so it’s far more likely it’ll simply rain burning oil across the southern 3rd of the USA.

Pretty decent premise though.

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