Oil spill headed towards the Loop Current

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:01 PM GMT on May 17, 2010

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Recent satellite imagery and flight over-passes of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill confirm that a surface tendril of oil has become entrained into a southward-moving current that threatens to pull oil into the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current late this week. 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 faster.

Why is oil getting close to 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, helping push the oil southwards towards the Loop Current. However, 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 towards the Loop Current. An examination of the latest NOAA trajectory forecasts and surface current forecasts reveals the possibility that this tendril of southward-moving oil could make it into the Loop Current late this week. It is highly uncertain how much oil might make it into the Loop Current, or how diluted it might get on its voyage to the Florida Keys next week. 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 prevent oil from getting into the Loop Current this month. I predict a 30% chance that oil will make it into the Loop Current in the next two weeks.


Figure 1. 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 once oil gets into the Loop Current
Based on a study of 194 floating probes released into the Northeast Gulf of Mexico during a 1-year study in the 1990s (Figure 2), 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 2. 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.

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Does this look cool or what...

Euro 216 hours:

Caribbean low seems to weaken a bit but the low east of Florida is something to see.



Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26654
Live press conference as I write...the Admiral says that while sheen has been detected in the general area of the northern edge of the loop current, as of this time, and although it may be close, oil is definitely NOT in the loop current at this time
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Quoting Levi32:


A subtropical system does not require as much heat from the ocean, as it has the benefit of steeper lapse rates due to cold pockets aloft.


That's why the accepted requirement is 23C, 3.5C lower than tropical cyclones.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Thanks Levi...I had another question that Joe bastardi once said If one basin has storms steering in a certain direction that another basins storms tend to follow the same path ex. west etc.. is that true also??
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WHen I look at the SST graph for the Tropical Pacific, sure looks like moving in the direction of a La Ninja~,...anyone know when the wind shear is supposed to start dropping?
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229. JRRP
Quoting Levi32:
Raleigh site 192-hour European shows deepening lows northeast of the Bahamas and in the SW Caribbean.


looks that man...

nice
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Quoting TampaSpin:


If you look at the Water temps.....it could barely hold a Tropical Storm MAYBE.....







A subtropical system does not require as much heat from the ocean, as it has the benefit of steeper lapse rates due to cold pockets aloft.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26654
Quoting Levi32:
Raleigh site 192-hour European shows deepening lows northeast of the Bahamas and in the SW Caribbean.



Looks like a nasty surf event for the eastern seaboard at any rate. That blocking surface ridge over New England would create a nasty pressure gradient between itself and any low near the Bahamas.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26654
Quoting TampaSpin:


I wonder how much we can't see is there also with the oil not coming to the top.


I suspect there is a lot around that does not show up on maps/pictures. Dauphin Island in Alabama has had tar balls more than once, confirmed too, but nothing shows the oil being close to there.
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Quoting Drakoen:


I'm not convinced on the system near the Bahamas. The GFS shows a rather prominent frontal feature attached to the low.


If that is true, then it should be reflected in cyclone phase diagrams by the same model, GFS.

Asymmetry does not occur until later in the cycle, until then, the system is analyzed and modeled as a non-frontal feature.

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
207. Patrap 3:02 PM EDT on May 17, 2010

I've got an Oceanography PhD in the office and we just caucused on the issue of the loop current; he feels that an "unfathonable" colum of oil is under the sub-surface basically leaving a toxic trail, particularly, with the micro-organisms (plankton, etc.) floating in the water colums which form the base of the food chain......He thinks the impacts of this will be far reaching and not fully know for the next decade or two.........
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 9213
Quoting Levi32:


It becomes detached later as the trough-split completes.

Front:



Front:



No Front:



If you look at the Water temps.....it could barely hold a Tropical Storm MAYBE.....





Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
Raleigh site 192-hour European shows deepening lows northeast of the Bahamas and in the SW Caribbean.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26654
221. xcool
, I Hope cmc Jump on board!!!!
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From NOAA:

"Situation: Saturday 15 May – NOAA continues to provide scientific support including: modeling the trajectory and location of the oil, conducting shoreline oil assessment surveys, conducting oil chemistry analyses, and evaluating open water and shoreline remediation techniques.
Undersea dispersant application resumed this morning and BP is doing continuous testing. If tests reveal something we are concerned about, the dispersant application will be stopped.
Skimming and in-situ burning was planned but postponed until the weather is more moderate. Aerial dispersant application did take place.
Tarballs were reported west of Galveston, Texas to the Florida panhandle. Testing already underway has shown some tarballs to be from this spill and others not.
As of today, 1.6 million feet of boom have been deployed, and all the ports remain open.
Over 11,000 people were working on the response today."

So tarballs from this spill are washing up but other tarballs are washing up....FROM WHAT?!?!?!!?
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ESL by LSU



COSMO-Skymed Oil Spill Radar Image from CSTARS, May 16, 2010
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128639
Quoting Drakoen:


I'm not convinced on the system near the Bahamas. The GFS shows a rather prominent frontal feature attached to the low.


It becomes detached later as the trough-split completes.

Front:



Front:



No Front:

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26654
From Dr. Master's post


LOL. It looks like someone plucked one of the probes off the beach in Florida and took it home with them.
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Quoting tornadodude:


yeah, maybe we can meet up in the Joplin area when we are on our way back.

Yesterday was awesome, playing the waiting game today :P

*cue jeopardy theme*


Looks like something's building right above your head, young man! :)
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3752
215. JRRP
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Quoting Hurricanes101:


The ECMWF link that is in your 1st pic does not show anything special in the SW Caribbean like the other link does

could be that whatever forms off the SE Coast is what we will be watching for development


The first images from the other site are only out to 168 hours so far. Also, the ECMWF site spaces the isobars at 5mb apart, whereas the raleigh site spaces them 2mb apart, which is much better for viewing tropical features. The 216-hour I showed has a closed 1010mb isobar in the central Caribbean, but we will know more about how well-defined that feature is in a bit.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26654
Quoting Levi32:


Huh didn't think that site would update before the ECMWF site.

Like I said things could get interesting next week. It is wise to pay attention when the Euro gets on board. This is the first time so far this year, and it's doing it with both systems.


I'm not convinced on the system near the Bahamas. The GFS shows a rather prominent frontal feature attached to the low.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30562
Quoting JeffMasters:
From the latest MODIS image, the oil is at Tampa Bay's latitude, which means it is in the Loop Current. Blog update coming soon.

Jeff Masters


I wonder how much we can't see is there also with the oil not coming to the top.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
RE: 203

WOW!!! You can really see the spill in that shot. Amazing.
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210. xcool
so gfs and ngp now ecmwf wow
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"So far, BP has told federal agencies that it has applied more than 400,000 gallons of a dispersant sold under the trade name Corexit and manufactured by Nalco Co., a company that was once part of Exxon Mobil Corp. and whose current leadership includes executives at both BP and Exxon. And another 805,000 gallons of Corexit are on order, the company said, with the possibility that hundreds of thousands of more gallons may be needed if the well continues spewing oil for weeks or months.

But according to EPA data, Corexit ranks far above dispersants made by competitors in toxicity and far below them in effectiveness in handling southern Louisiana crude.

Of 18 dispersants whose use EPA has approved, 12 were found to be more effective on southern Louisiana crude than Corexit, EPA data show. Two of the 12 were found to be 100 percent effective on Gulf of Mexico crude, while the two Corexit products rated 56 percent and 63 percent effective, respectively. The toxicity of the 12 was shown to be either comparable to the Corexit line or, in some cases, 10 or 20 times less, according to EPA. "

Source: ThinkProgress

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Quoting Levi32:
Euro 216 hours closed low east of Florida:



Upper ridge over cut-off trough-split low.....a mischievous pattern:



The ECMWF link that is in your 1st pic does not show anything special in the SW Caribbean like the other link does

could be that whatever forms off the SE Coast is what we will be watching for development
Member Since: March 10, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 7816
DATE: May 17, 2010 13:03:15 CST

Statement from NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco on Ongoing Efforts to Monitor Subsea Impacts of the BP Oil Spill



Key contact numbers

* Report oiled shoreline or request volunteer information: (866) 448-5816
* Submit alternative response technology, services or products: (281) 366-5511
* Submit your vessel for the Vessel of Opportunity Program: (281) 366-5511


* Submit a claim for damages: (800) 440-0858

* Report oiled wildlife: (866) 557-1401



Deepwater Horizon Incident
Joint Information Center

Phone: (985) 902-5231
(985) 902-5240

"Media reports related to the research work conducted aboard the R/V Pelican included information that was misleading, premature and, in some cases, inaccurate. Yesterday the independent scientists clarified three important points:

1. No definitive conclusions have been reached by this research team about the composition of the undersea layers they discovered. Characterization of these layers will require analysis of samples and calibration of key instruments. The hypothesis that the layers consist of oil remains to be verified.

2. While oxygen levels detected in the layers were somewhat below normal, they are not low enough to be a source of concern at this time.

3. Although their initial interest in searching for subsurface oil was motivated by consideration of subsurface use of dispersants, there is no information to connect use of dispersants to the subsurface layers they discovered.

NOAA thanks the Pelican scientists and crew for repurposing their previously scheduled mission to gather information about possible impacts of the BP oil spill. We eagerly await results from their analyses and share with them the goal of disseminating accurate information.

NOAA continues to work closely with EPA and the federal response team to monitor the presence of oil and the use of surface and sub-surface dispersants. As we have emphasized, dispersants are not a silver bullet. They are used to move us towards the lesser of two environmental outcomes. Until the flow of oil is stemmed, we must take every responsible action to reduce the impact of the oil.%u201D

For information about the response effort, visit www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128639
Quoting Hurricanes101:


In 2007 we had Andrea and Barry by June 1st, so it is not as far-fetched as some would lead us to believe


Oh yeah, forgot about good ol Barry lol.. Thans for reminding me, guess it isn't too impossible, but still rare.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7396
Euro 216 hours closed low east of Florida:



Upper ridge over cut-off trough-split low.....a mischievous pattern:

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26654
www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com

Latest Information

* May 17, 2010
Statement from NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco on Ongoing Efforts to Monitor Subsea Impacts of the BP Oil Spill
* May 17, 2010
MEDIA ADVISORY: Theodore, Ala., Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
* May 17, 2010
*Update* Unified Area Command to hold press briefing in Robert, La.
* May 17, 2010
"Top Kill" graphic
* May 17, 2010
Identifying oil in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida
* May 17, 2010
Identifying oil in Louisiana
* May 17, 2010
Current Operations and Ongoing Response
* May 17, 2010
PHOTO RELEASE: Bird cleaning at FT JACKSON, La.
* May 17, 2010
DHR: Vessels of Opportunity Program
* May 17, 2010
Situation Status Map - May 17, 2010
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128639
This afternoon's Modis image north eastern GOM.
Link
Credit: Modis Rapid Response
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Boom,,bada bing..

"Cymbal Crash"





Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128639
Thanks for the update Dr. Masters
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting taco2me61:


Sorry
i missed your response. But I will be there soon....
i
just have to work this week :o(
I tell ya you had me ready yesterday....

Taco:o)


yeah, maybe we can meet up in the Joplin area when we are on our way back.

Yesterday was awesome, playing the waiting game today :P

*cue jeopardy theme*
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8358
Quoting JeffMasters:
From the latest MODIS image, the oil is at Tampa Bay's latitude, which means it is in the Loop Current. Blog update coming soon.

Jeff Masters


Now a big question is how much oil is underneath the surface that we cannot see?
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 9213
Boom,,bada bing..

"Cymbal Crash"





Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128639
O I just love this i see this LinkLink
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Continuing to deepen east of the Bahamas at 168 hours:

Its fairly southerly position on the Euro favors warm-core transition over warmer SSTs.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26654
Quoting reedzone:
Wouldn't be something if "Alex and Bonnie" form in the next week or two? Just saying, a start to a potentially active and deadly season.


In 2007 we had Andrea and Barry by June 1st, so it is not as far-fetched as some would lead us to believe
Member Since: March 10, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 7816
193. JeffMasters (Admin)
From the latest MODIS image, the oil is at Tampa Bay's latitude, which means it is in the Loop Current. Blog update coming soon.

Jeff Masters
Wouldn't be something if "Alex and Bonnie" form in the next week or two? Just saying, a start to a potentially active and deadly season.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7396
191. Skyepony (Mod)
92B
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 173 Comments: 38148


If one would look at this graph above, look at 2005...you can see the peak occured then....it was a 3 year climb to the peak.....so with that and looking at the other peaks are very simailar and seeing we are in a low currently....the peak would occur at least 2-3 years down the road for Tropical activity. NEXT YEAR AND THE FOLLOWING YEAR SHOULD BE WORSE THAN THIS YEAR if one believes in statistical measures. JUST MY OPINION!
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 178 Comments: 20443
Quoting Drakoen:
ECMWF 12z out to 144hrs suggesting development in the southern Caribbean.



Huh didn't think that site would update before the ECMWF site.

Like I said things could get interesting next week. It is wise to pay attention when the Euro gets on board. This is the first time so far this year, and it's doing it with both systems.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26654
Quoting taco2me61:


Sorry
i missed your response. But I will be there soon....
i
just have to work this week :o(
I tell ya you had me ready yesterday....

Taco:o)


Check your e-mail again for full update!
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3752
Quoting Weather456:


uh huh

It also shows the area east of the Bahamas



*Sarcasm on*

Its May though, aren't we getting ahead of ourselves??

*Sarcasm off*
Member Since: March 10, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 7816
Quoting tornadodude:


thanks!!


Sorry
i missed your response. But I will be there soon....
i
just have to work this week :o(
I tell ya you had me ready yesterday....

Taco:o)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Drakoen:
ECMWF 12z out to 144hrs suggesting development in the southern Caribbean.



uh huh

It also shows the area east of the Bahamas

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
thanks for explaining it weather456!
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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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