Oceanographer “Cannot Think Of Any Scenario Where The Oil Doesn’t Eventually Reach The Florida Keys”

As I explained in detail yesterday, the oil spill may be carried by the “loop current” to Florida:

How could the oil get all the way from Louisiana to Florida, where the Gulf
Stream flows?

As Discovery explains:

Many ocean scientists are now raising concerns that a powerful current could spread the still-bubbling slick from the Florida Keys all the way to Cape Hatteras off North Carolina.

These oceanographers are carefully watching the Gulf Loop Current, a
clockwise swirl of warm water that sets up in the Gulf of Mexico each spring and summer. If the spill meets the loop — the disaster becomes a runaway.

“It could make it from Louisiana all the way to Miami in a week, maybe less.” said Eric Chassignet, director of the Center for Ocean Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University. “It is pretty fast.”

Right now, some computer models show the spill 30 to 50 miles north of the loop current. If the onshore winds turn around and push the oil further south: “That would be a nightmare,” said Yonggang Liu, research associate at the University of South Florida who models the current. “Hopefully we are lucky, but who knows. The winds are changing and difficult to predict.”

Imagine the loop current as an ocean-going highway, transporting tiny
plankton, fish and other marine life along a watery conveyor belt. Sometimes it even picks up a slug of freshwater from the Mississippi River — sending it on a wandering journey up to North Carolina.

The Gulf Loop Current acts like a jet of warm water that squirts in from the Caribbean basin and sloshes around the Gulf of Mexico before being squeezed out the Florida Strait, where it joins the larger and more powerful Gulf Stream current.


Oceanographer George Maul worries that the current could push the oil slick right through the Florida Keys and its 6,000 coral reefs.

“I looked at some recent satellite imagery and it looks like some of the oil may be shifted to the south,” said Maul, a professor at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla. “If it gets entrained in the loop, it could spread throughout much of the Atlantic.”

In fact, new animation from a consortium of Florida institutions and the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, predicts a slight southward shift in the oil over the next few days.

A graphic from the Discovery article shows what the Gulf loop current
looks like:

loop current
The Gulf Loop Current enters from
the Caribbean basin,
moves around the Gulf of Mexico and
exits out the
Florida Strait, where it joins
the more powerful Gulf Stream current.

Naval Oceanographic Office

According to ROFFS, the oil spill is getting close to the loop current:

Unfortunately, we may be only 24 hours away from oil entering the loop current. As AP writes today:

Scientists say the Gulf oil spill could get into the what’s called the Loop
Current within a day, eventually carrying oil south along the Florida coast and
into the Florida Keys.

Nick Shay, a physical oceanographer at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, said Monday once the oil enters the Loop Current, it likely will end up in the Keys and continue east into the Gulf Stream.


Shay says he cannot think of any scenario where the oil doesn’t eventually reach the Florida Keys.

As Orlando’s Fox 35 notes:

Brevard County oceanographer, Mitchell Roffer is watching the oil on the
south end of the spill. He says it’s starting to push into the gulf stream.
“Thats going to then get pulled around into the loop current then get pulled
down around the east side of loop current off of Tampa and into the Keys,” said

He’s tracking winds and currents to try to determine where and
when the oil slick hits Florida’s East Coast. He says its only a matter of time.
“I think its a question of when, and my colleagues all believe the same thing, I don’t believe it will be an if,” Roffer said.

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