Oil enters the Loop Current and is headed to the Florida Keys

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 7:38 PM GMT on May 17, 2010

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Satellite imagery today from NASA's MODIS instrument 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. The Loop Current is an ocean current that transports warm Caribbean water through the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico. The 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.


Figure 1. Satellite image of the oil spill taken at 12:40 EDT Monday May 17, 2010. The location of the Loop Current is superimposed. Image credit: University of Wisconsin and NASA.

Why is oil getting into the Loop Current?
The winds over the oil spill location are offshore out of the northwest today, and offshore winds will continue intermittently through Wednesday, which should allow a substantial amount of oil to enter the Loop Current. The major reason oil is moving southwards is because of the instability of the currents in the Gulf of Mexico. The Loop Current is not a stable feature, and tends to surge northwards and southwards in a chaotic fashion, and in response to changes in the prevailing winds. Over the past week, chaotic behavior of the Loop Current and a clockwise-rotating eddy just to its north, just south of the oil spill location, have combined to bring a current of southward-moving surface water to the oil spill location. As strong on-shore winds from the southeast slackened this past weekend, oil has been drawn southward into the Loop Current. The latest NOAA trajectory forecasts failed to anticipate the movement of the oil into the Loop Current. The latest surface current forecasts from NOAA's HYCOM model show that oil could continue pouring into the Loop Current for most of the rest of the week. It is highly uncertain how diluted the oil might get on its voyage to northwestern Cuba and the Florida Keys this week, but the possibility for a major ecological disaster in the fragile Keys ecosystem cannot be ruled out. Southeast to east winds of 10 - 15 knots are expected to develop late this week and extend into early next week, which may be strong enough to impose a surface current that will shut off the flow of oil into the Loop Current by Friday or Saturday.


Figure 2. Forecast made at 8pm EDT Sunday May 16, 2010, of the Gulf of Mexico currents by NOAA's HYCOM model. A persistent southward flowing surface current is predicted to occur this week between the oil spill location (red dot) and the Loop Current. Image credit: NOAA.

Likely areas of impact
Based on a study of 194 floating probes released into the Northeast Gulf of Mexico during a 1-year study in the 1990s (Figure 3), the west coast of Florida from Tampa Bay southwards to the Everglades is at minimal risk of receiving oil from surface currents. There is a "forbidden zone" off the southwest Florida coast where the shape of the coast, bottom configuration, and prevailing winds all act to create upwelling and surface currents that tend to take water away from the coast. This study implies that 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, according to one scientist I spoke to at last week's AMS hurricane conference. 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.


Figure 3. Paths of 194 floating probes released into the yellow-outlined area in the northeast Gulf of Mexico between February 1996 and February 1997 as part of a study by the Mineral Management Service (MMS). The probes were all launched into waters with depth between 20 and 60 meters. Image credit: Yang, H., R.H. Weisberga, P.P. Niilerb, W. Sturgesc, and W. Johnson, 1999, Lagrangian circulation and forbidden zone on the West Florida Shelf, Continental Shelf Research Volume 19, Issue 9, July 1999, Pages 1221-1245 doi:10.1016/S0278-4343(99)00021-7

When will a Loop Current eddy break off?
Every 6 - 11 months, the looped portion of the Loop Current cuts off into a clockwise-rotating ring of water that then slowly drifts west-southwest towards Texas. When one of these rings breaks off at the peak of hurricane season, it provides a source of heat energy capable of providing fuel for rapid intensification of any hurricanes that might cross over. The Loop Current is not predicted to shed an ring over the next month, as predicted by the latest 1-month forecast from the U.S. Navy. However, the last eddy broke off in July of 2009, ten month ago, and it is unusual for the Loop Current to go more than eleven months without shedding an eddy. I expect we'll see the Loop Current shed an eddy in July or August, just in time to pose the maximum threat for hurricane season. According to an interesting February 2004 article published by offshore-engineer.com, reliable forecasts of these currents and eddies are not available yet. Keep in mind that surface currents are largely driven by winds, and wind forecasts are not reliable out more than about 10 days.

References
Yang, H., R.H. Weisberga, P.P. Niilerb, W. Sturgesc, and W. Johnson, 1999, Lagrangian circulation and forbidden zone on the West Florida Shelf, Continental Shelf Research Volume 19, Issue 9, July 1999, Pages 1221-1245 doi:10.1016/S0278-4343(99)00021-7.

Oil spill resources
NOAA trajectory forecasts
University of South Florida Ocean Circulation Group oil spill forecasts
ROFFS Deepwater Horizon page
Surface current forecasts from NOAA's HYCOM model
HYCOM ocean current forecasts from LSU

Jeff Masters

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latest nw atl basin WV image as of 431 pm 4 mins ago
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54858
Quoting Floodman:


Which alternatives are those? The guys with the deep pockets, the ones that should have been looking at alternative technologies, the OIL companies, are too busy lining up to be the one that makes the last dollar on oil...


Amen brother Flood. My sentiments exactly. The sad fact is there is more to be made with alternatives. You'd think they'd be flocking to ride that gravy train.
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Quoting hurricanejunky:


Oh, come on man, it's all in good fun ;)


LOL...you have to be careful; there are those that aren't nearly as fun-loving as you or I...
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Well, stormchaser81 has a point--the heat stress from man-made global warming has weakened the coral reefs in the Keys, making them more vulnerable to stresses from an oil spill. However, I doubt this spill will destroy the reefs.

And the oil spill from Ixtoc lasted 9 1/2 months. Oil went everywhere in the Gulf, not just in once place. And plenty went out into the Gulf Stream, right past the Keys. Miami Beach was covered with tarballs the next summer. So was our beach in Georgia.


Well get ready for some more lovely tar balled beaches. The fact that all of this was easily preventable is what makes it so much worse. The proper equipment with proper maintenance would have halted this before it got rolling. That's been documented and verified. With billions in annual profits, taking the necessary safety precautions wouldn't have been too hard.
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111. jeans
I was so sorry to read this report and see the picture that shows the oil getting into the loop current. I live in Central Florida and love going to the keys to snorkel and swim in the beautiful clear water there.

Also, why is BP talking about plugging the well NOW? Why didn't they try that solution three weeks ago? Makes me wonder if they wanted to scoop up some of that oil before plugging the hole.
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Chemical plant burns in SE Houston


A shelter in place was issued Monday afternoon to residents near the LyondellBasell chemical plant near Pasadena after a fire broke out at a crude distillation unit.


Dem catcrackers will go Ka-Blooie..

snicker,boo,hisss...................
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Quoting Floodman:


1-2 mph current? It'll suffuse the eddies and side currents pretty quickly


I really think its riding the rim of the loop current, not in the current itself, that's why it has that sharp curve up to the north in the MODIS pass. I'm also thinking the oil will only be tarballs by the time it reaches the Keys and south Florida coast.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315
Quoting Acemmett90:

i say cap em and wait till we use our reserved oil or just swich to alternate energys


Which alternatives are those? The guys with the deep pockets, the ones that should have been looking at alternative technologies, the OIL companies, are too busy lining up to be the one that makes the last dollar on oil...
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12z ECMWF Ensembles just came in....still showing a trough-splitting pattern off the SE US with not much reflected at the surface near the Bahamas like on the operational run, but there is a broad area of low pressure showing up in the Caribbean on the ensemble means.

12z ECMWF Ensemble 500mb Day 10:



12z ECMWF Ensemble MSLP Day 10:


Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26684
NINO 3.4 region at -0.1
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Quoting Floodman:
Okay, let's not let politics get into this; we were having a nice discussion and someone had to drop an "f" bomb...


Oh, come on man, it's all in good fun ;)
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
The oil reefs won't be destroyed. Damaged maybe, but not destroyed. Ixtoc was a far bigger oil spill, it was closer to the Keys, and the reefs revived nicely after the oil well was plugged.

There could be a lot of damage to the Keys' coral reefs--but destroyed? I seriously doubt it.

The OIL reefs??
This is bad Kharma, man..
But, a pretty intriguing idea........Tourists will swarm to swim about in petroleum.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
The oil reefs won't be destroyed. Damaged maybe, but not destroyed. Ixtoc was a far bigger oil spill, it was closer to the Keys, and the reefs revived nicely after the oil well was plugged.

There could be a lot of damage to the Keys' coral reefs--but destroyed? I seriously doubt it.


Actually I was listening to a conservation biologist talk about the situation with the reefs and he said that although the oil was harmful it was the chemical dispersants that will prove to be absolutely fatal to the Keys sensitive coral reefs. Please don't downplay this. This disaster cannot be overstated enough.
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Quoting runningfromthestorms:
16. I read that instead of using the recommended EPA dispersant that is 100% effective - BP purchased a 64% effective dispersant from Exxon and has 800,000 more gals on order...and guess what, the article goes on to say lots of ex-Exxon Mobil execs now work for BP...surprised?


What does *effective* mean anyway? Keeping it below the surface isn't *effective*, it's ignorant. The EPA is no better than BP when it comes to doing the right thing. It's all about money. These knuckle heads are going to find out that keeping it below the surface and coagulating it on the sea floor is going to be worse than letting it blow ashore and cleaning it up right away. Watch and see.
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It Gets Worse

According to BP (British Petroleum)[2] world oil reserves stand at 1238 billion barrels. At present (2008) yearly world oil production stands at 31 billion barrels. There is enough oil to last 40 years if production holds constant and no new oil is found. According to BP, the Middle East has 61% of the world's oil reserves. Africa has 9.6% and the Russian Federation has 6.4%. The two countries sharing borders with the United States, Mexico and Canada, together have only 3.2%. Venezeula, a short distance away via oil tanker, has 7%

The United States possesses 2.6% of the worlds oil reserves while it consumes 24% of the world's oil production.

Although the United States has only 2.4% of the world's oil, it produces 9.2%. If the production rate could be maintained, the oil will be gone in 11 years. The figures for Canada are the same and they are worse for Mexico. The Middle East has enough oil to last 88 years at present production rates. Africa has 33 years. Clearly the United States will be increasingly dependent on oil imported from those places. It is impossible to consider oil independence in light of these numbers.

The majority of the world's oil comes from old oil fields. For example, Kuwait still supplies 3% of the world's oil from a 70 year old field. The world's largest oil field, Ghawar, a 57 year old oil field, still supplies 5% of the world's oil. The North Sea (discovered in 1963) was exploited very quickly and is now in steep decline. Alaska's Prudhoe Bay (discovered in 1968) is now a trickle.

Oil varies greatly in quality. Some oil is so light and sweet (low in sulfur) it can be pumped directly into the fuel tank of a Diesel truck. Some oil is more like tar and it may contain sulfur. It's hard to transport and natural gas may be needed to refine it into useful fuel. The oil from Manifa, a large oil field in Iran, is an extreme example. It contains so much sulfur and vanadium it can't be refined using today's technology. The average quality of oil is declining because the best quality was produced first.

Oil varies greatly in accessibility. It is convenient to access Kuwaiti oil. Oil tankers in the Persian Gulf load from nearby Kuwaiti oil wells. It is inconvenient to access oil from the north slope of Alaska. It was necessary to build an 800 mile pipeline over mountains and permafrost to reach the oil in Prudhoe Bay. Oil drilling platforms can reach oil in mile deep water but only at great expense in money terms and in energy terms. There is oil in the arctic but oil drilling platforms will have to deal with ice and deep water to access it.

The remaining oil will be expensive and difficult to produce, refine and transport.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
The oil reefs won't be destroyed. Damaged maybe, but not destroyed. Ixtoc was a far bigger oil spill, it was closer to the Keys, and the reefs revived nicely after the oil well was plugged.

There could be a lot of damage to the Keys' coral reefs--but destroyed? I seriously doubt it.

Most of Ixtoc's oil ended up on the sandy South Texas barrier islands, where there were no reefs, no coral, just sand. It was still a huge mess but not in such an environmentally sensitive area.
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Quoting StormChaser81:


It's not going to go right into the Keys. The Keys are a couple of miles to the North of the Gulf Stream.

It has to get entrained into the eddys and other current northwest of the Keys.


1-2 mph current? It'll suffuse the eddies and side currents pretty quickly
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Worth repeating that you/all need (now in the Keys and South Florida in addition to the rest of the affected Gulf areas), if you can, to make the time to volunteer for any cleanup efforts that may come into play in the coming months whether from the shoreline, or, assisting with boom deployments and the like if you are a boater.......We are all very upset but it is what it is at this point and we need to pitch in to help wherever we can......Lots of folks, rightfully, are talking about the impacts to tourism and the like in the short term, but, lots of service orientated college kids and high schoolers out for the Summer also....If they see the coastal residents pitching in, I am certain that you could also see lots of young folks or community groups plan assistance trips in the Summer to help with coatal clean-up and the like.....We are all in the same boat and it would be nice to see some of the hoteliers along the coast, who would be impacted, provide free or low cost accomodations for "eco-tourists" who would come to the Gulf to volunteer for clean-up assistance.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
The oil reefs won't be destroyed. Damaged maybe, but not destroyed. Ixtoc was a far bigger oil spill, it was closer to the Keys, and the reefs revived nicely after the oil well was plugged.

There could be a lot of damage to the Keys' coral reefs--but destroyed? I seriously doubt it.


There barely alive down there as is, it wont take much to really kill a lot or damage beyond rebuilding.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315
Okay, let's not let politics get into this; we were having a nice discussion and someone had to drop an "f" bomb...
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Quoting TampaTom:
Well, poop.

This isn't good news.


That's what I like about you, Tom; your emotions are right there at the surface!

How are you, man?
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12z CMC shows an amplified surface trough east of the Bahamas at 144 hours:

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26684
Quoting weathermanwannabe:
Thanks Dr......So if you burn off oil on the top, how much of it remains underneath, and, to what degree, as some have noted on here from looking at the photos, is the trail down towards the loop current "dispursed" oil frm the result of chemical treatments, or, raw oil from the leak?............Not a good prospect for the Keys ecosystem anyway you cut it.


It's not going to go right into the Keys. The Keys are a couple of miles to the North of the Gulf Stream.

It has to get entrained into the eddys and other current northwest of the Keys.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315

NEXSAT, Das Oil Plume



Supply is way Up..demand is down..Oil is stable for the next 6 weeks as to reserves.

And the Lower price at the Pump has reflected dat a while now.






Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Quoting twhcracker:


no, it will be: "today BP announced a very small portion of oil sheen drifted south, but just enough for them to try out a special new oil sucking mickey mouse straw they have come up with to save the GOM"


They are entering into negotions with Whammo for the use of the "crazy straw" technology
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Quoting charlottefl:
Heck they're saying just 1 underwater plume is 10 miles long and a mile wide. That's a lot of stinkin oil.


And 300 feet thick. By my calcs, that is about 0.6 cubic miles. And no way to clean it or recover it. One plume.
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Question?

Many years ago when you went to the beach in south florida there was tar spots in the sand. Most hotels had a tar clean off station near the beach access. It seemed to have stopped for years. I did not really think about it again until the oil spill. Any idea what the tar was from and why it disappeared?
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Well, poop.

This isn't good news.
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Quoting Acemmett90:


crap this combine with a shut down for a hurricane i afraid of the gas prices


To be honest, this well wasn't "in production" so it's loss wouldn't immediately effect fuel prices...give us a storm in the GOM though and look out
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Again, for the industry to engage in drilling at this depth without a number of fall back positions is incomprehensible; and by the way, "it was his fault" in no way constitutes a fall back position...

The level of greed and lack of intellignece boggles the mind...
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Quoting taco2me61:
Thank You for the update Dr Masters,

This does not look good for the FL Keys and East Coast....

Taco :o)


Spill baby spill...that's such a cute sentiment when dumbass oil companies stupidity isn't laying waste to our delicate eco-systems. The Keys coral reefs were already under enough stress from ocean acidification. This is the last thing they needed. UGH! This isn't directed at you...just a general statement...
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BP - "Beyond Pollution"
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Trough split near the east coast next week. A trailing trough coming east will reach the east coast this weekend and split away southeast. With a major area of high pressure building over the lakes and northeast and out into the northwest atlantic, this sets the stage for the threat of the first tropical of subtropical, or both, development of the season.. one east of the Bahamas and the other over the western Caribbean. The northern one is the kind that could be considered subtropical, the southern one the more classic early season tropical version. 5) La Nina base pattern now evident. The warm waters in the Arabian sea and indian ocean and the rapid cooling of the central Pacific mean a stronger than normal trade wind belt is developing over the Pacific and this is conducive to a stronger than normal monsoonal circulation where there really are Monsoons ( asian sub-continent) this also helps out with the African wave train and with the water bath tub warm in the atlantic it means the idea that this could be a big hurricane season has the physical realities of the pattern to back it up. The MJO upward motion patterns get distorted so that the prime area of the wave is mostly African, the western hemisphere, and Indian Ocean as far as upward motion goes. This offers the threat of major difference from 06 and 09, when the El nino kept the core of upward motion in the Pacific basin, 2008, when it was almost perfect for timing so there were up down periods, and 2007 when the atlantic was not as warm as it is now. Interestingly enough, the year the pattern resembles most closely now is 2005, though a trimming of the extreme option has to be considered. The point is the MJO upward motions considerations may find the 40 day wave "stuck" in areas favorable to western hemisphere development, as opposed to last year when it wasnt


by joe
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15684

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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