Real World Math: Concept Lessons - Oil Spill Estimates

Unfortunately, real world math lessons are sometimes learned from tragedy. 

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a major ecological and economic disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  Estimating how much oil leaked was a matter of debate among many different sources.

The exercises in this Kmz will present students with several methods to estimate the area of irregular regions.  Oil spill maps from NOAA are used as overlays in Google Earth in a series of problems.  With the use of grid lines of latitude and longitude, the areas of surface oil are estimated first as a rough estimate and then using Pick’s Theorem.  Links to information on offshore oil drilling are included in the file as well as a fabulous interactive widget from PBS NewsHour that calculates how much oil has leaked.  The file contains folders within folders.  Be sure to read the Teacher’s Notes download to correctly manage folders.

Additionally, a 3D SketchUp model of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Platform is included for instructional purposes.  A version of the model is included with the Google Earth file and appears in the Gulf of Mexico where the accident occurred.

Note:  Some of the resources used for this lesson are linked to live feeds.  They may become unavailable in the future.  Reformatting of this lesson may occur in the future. (Updated February 2011)

Student Worksheet
Teacher Notes
Deepwater Horizon model
SketchUp Model notes



  • Estimate area of irregular shapes
  • Estimate area using a grid pattern
  • Estimate area using Pick’s Theorem
  • Gain knowledge on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and offshore drilling

Technology Topics
GPS & Satellites, Online & Software Tools
Math Topics
Estimating & Rounding, Geometry, Measurement & Time
Social Studies Topics
Geography, World History
K-6, Middle School, Educator
4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade

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