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Flaming 'blue whirl' could help clean oil spills, researchers hope

A spinning blue flame may hold the key to mopping oil from bodies of water with minimal pollution.

University of Maryland; YouTube screenshot by CNET

There's now evidence that whirling blue flame might help clean oil spills on water. Earlier this month, researchers out of the University of Maryland published findings on how to tame a raging oil fire into a relatively clean-burning, controllable state, ScienceNews reports. It's called the "blue whirl."

A conflagration in 2003 that began in a Jim Beam warehouse and ended with swirling tornadoes of blue fire on a nearby lake inspired the research team to re-create the phenomenon in their lab. But instead of pouring out jiggers of the good stuff, scientists whipped air into the equation, to create a vortex of flame that eventually settled into the blue whirl.

The experiment is mesmerizing to watch, because fire. More importantly, it fans flames of hope for mopping up devastating oil spills in rivers, lakes and oceans. By setting oil ablaze and applying the same technique, it's possible to burn the oil away while keeping environmental pollution to a minimum.