~ Oil Spill Meets Loop Current

Strange how everyone’s worse case scenarios seems to be turning into the most likely case scenarios.  It’s hard not to feel like a captive audience forced to watch a slow motion perfect storm develop and unfold, but have no way of stopping it.  Only left to wonder when and where it will end.

The May 17th NASA’s MODIS /terra satellite imagery below (h/t University of Wisconsin and NASA) shows, according to Skytruth:

The total area covered by slick and sheen, at 10,170 square miles (26,341 km2), is nearly double what it appeared to be on the May 14 radar satellite image, and is bigger than the state of Maryland

And if that isn’t bad enough.  It also confirms that “a substantial tongue of oil has moved southeast from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and entered the Gulf of Mexico’s Loop Current.”

From Dr. Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog:

The [Loop] current flows northward into the Gulf of Mexico, then loops southeastward just south of the Florida Keys (where it is called the Florida Current), and then along the west side of the western Bahamas. Here, the waters of the Loop Current flow northward along the U.S. coast and become the Gulf Stream. Once oil gets into the Loop Current, the 1 – 2 mph speed of the current should allow the oil to travel the 500 miles to the Florida Keys in 10 – 20 days. Portions of the Loop Current flow at speed up to 4 mph, so the transport could be just 4 – 5 days. It now appears likely that the first Florida beaches to see oil from the spill will be in the Lower Florida Keys, not in the Panhandle.

And that appears to be already happening. Approximately 20 – three to eight inch “tar balls” were found at Fort Zachary Taylor and the adjacent Navy beach at Truman Annex in Key West on Monday.

On Tuesday they were sent to labs to establish if their origins is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or a passing ship.  In the mean time, the Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries continue to survey for more.

As McClatchy points out, while:

A state advisory noted that, just last year there were 681 reports of “oil and petroleum incidents along Florida’s waterways and beaches,” advising “these types of occurrences are not as unusual as one might think.”…

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said in a conference call Tuesday morning that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association was expanding its fishery closure at noon to cover 19 percent of the Gulf, or 45,728 square miles.

So where might this oil go next?

More from Dr. Masters on the Loop Current. Based on a 1-year study in the 1990s:

the greatest risk of land impacts by surface oil caught in the Loop Current is along the ocean side of the Florida Keys, and along the coast of Southeast Florida from Miami to West Palm Beach. Eddies breaking away from the Gulf Stream would also likely bring oil to northwest Cuba, the western Bahamas, and the U.S. East Coast as far north as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, though at lesser concentrations. Southwest Florida cannot rest entirely, though–the “forbidden zone” is only true for surface waters, and there is onshore flow below the surface. Since recent ship measurements have detected substantial plumes of oil beneath the surface, southwest Florida might be at risk if one of these plumes gets entrained into the Loop Current. These subsurface plumes were also detected by current probes launched into the oil spill on May 8 by one of NOAA’s hurricane hunter aircraft … There are plans for the Hurricane Hunters to go out again tomorrow and drop more probes into the spill to attempt to get a better handle on where the oil is and where the currents are taking it.

Too bad this isn’t a low budget hollywood horror flick, because then the overly obvious and absurdly faulty plotting would have made this a comic farce.   Then I’d be laughing instead of sick to my stomach when I read about Transocean distributing a $1 billion profit to shareholders, or watch A must-see: 60 Minutesinterviews Deepwater Horizon survivor Mike Williams.

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[Cross posted at No Quarter]

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