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Models suggest oil spill may move up Atlantic Coast, out to sea

From Green Right Now Reports Everyone knows there is a whole lot of oil floating around in the Gulf of Mexico, but where is it going? According to at least...

From Green Right Now Reports

Everyone knows there is a whole lot of oil floating around in the Gulf of Mexico, but where is it going? According to at least one computer modeling study, the Atlantic Coast and open ocean may be victims of the spill by as early as this summer. The results are captured in a series of animations produced by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and others.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘Will the oil reach Florida?’” says NCAR scientist Synte Peacock, who worked on the study. “Actually, our best knowledge says the scope of this environmental disaster is likely to reach far beyond Florida, with impacts that have yet to be understood.”

According to the computer simulations, the Gulf of Mexico’s Loop Current could draw the oil to Florida’s Atlantic Coast within weeks. The Gulf Stream could then carry it as far as about Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, before the spill would turn east.

Scientists used a computer model to simulate how a liquid released at the spill site would disperse and circulate, producing results that are not dependent on the total amount released. They tracked the rate of dispersal in the top 65 feet of the water and at four additional depths, with the lowest being just above the sea bed.

Peacock and her colleagues stress that the simulations are not a forecast, but merely possible scenarios. The timing and course of the oil slick will be affected by regional weather conditions and the ever-changing state of the Gulf’s Loop Current—neither of which can be predicted more than a few days in advance.

The actual path of the oil will depend both on the short-term evolution of the Loop Current, which feeds into the Gulf Stream, and on the state of the overlying atmosphere. The flow in the model represents the best estimate of how ocean currents are likely to respond under typical wind conditions.

Simulations show that a liquid released in the surface ocean at the spill site is likely to slowly spread as it is mixed by the ocean currents until it is caught up in the Loop Current. At that point, speeds pick up to about 40 miles per day, and when the liquid enters the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream it can travel at speeds up to about 100 miles per day, or 3,000 miles per month.

The six model simulations all have different Loop Current characteristics. All bring the oil to south Florida and then up the East Coast, but the timing differs significantly depending on the configuration of the Loop Current.


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