Clouds, unstable Loop Current making oil spill prediction difficult

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 8:48 PM GMT on May 18, 2010

Share this Blog
4
+

It's cloudy over the Gulf of Mexico today, so it is difficult to tell how far into the Loop Current the Deepwater Horizon oil has penetrated using visible satellite imagery. Satellite imagery yesterday from NASA's MODIS instrument confirmed that a tongue of oil moved southeast from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and entered the Gulf of Mexico's Loop Current. However, Synthetic Aperture Radar imagery from the European Envisat satellite posted at ROFFS Ocean Forecasting Service shows that while some of the tongue of oil that entered the Loop Current appears to be circulating southwards towards the Florida Keys, perhaps 80% of the oil in this tongue is caught in a counter-clockwise circulating eddy along the north side of the Loop Current. This oil may eventually circulate around and enter the Loop Current, but not for at least three days.


Figure 1. Oil spill forecast for this Thursday night as simulated by the 6pm EDT Monday May 17 runs of the Navy Gulf of Mexico HYCOM nowcast/forecast system and the Global HYCOM + NCODA Analysis from the HYCOM Consortium. See the University of South Florida Ocean Circulation Group website for more information. There are considerable differences between the two models, due in part to the fact that they have much different depictions of the sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and ocean currents at the beginning of their runs. The warm Loop Current is visible as the red colors of the SST field that form a heart-shaped area in the Gulf.

How long will it be until oil reaches the Keys?
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 5 - 10 days. Portions of the Loop Current flow at speed up to 4 mph, so the fastest transport could be 4 - 5 days.

How much oil has made it into the Loop Current?
According to the latest trajectory forecasts from NOAA, the tongue of oil flowing southwards has, at most, "light" concentrations. The oil will grow more dilute as it travels the 500 miles to the Florida Keys, and most of the oil appears to be caught in a smaller counter-clockwise rotating eddy on the north side of the Loop Current. My present expectation is that the oil entering the Loop Current this week will cause only minor problems in the Keys next week. However, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding how much oil will get to the Keys, and we cannot rule out the possibility of an ecological disaster in the fragile Keys ecosystem.

How is the Loop Current changing?
The Loop Current has been highly chaotic and unstable over the past week, making it difficult to predict how the ocean currents near the spill will behave. According to ROFFS Ocean Fishing Service, which has done a tremendous job tracking the spill, the Loop Current surged 7 - 10 miles northward Sunday and Monday. The Loop Current has gotten more contorted since Friday, and may be ready to cut off into a clockwise-rotating Loop Current Eddy. This process occurs every 6 - 11 months, with the clockwise-rotating ring of water slowly drifting west-southwest towards Texas. The last eddy broke off ten months ago, so the Loop Current is due to shed another eddy in the next few months. The latest 1-month forecast from the U.S. Navy does not predict an eddy forming, but these forecasts are not very reliable. If a Loop Current Eddy does break off, oil getting entrained into it might orbit the center of the Gulf of Mexico for many months inside the eddy. However, this eddy will probably reattach and detach from the main Loop Current flow for at least a month following when it breaks off, so oil will continue to flow through the Keys during this initial month.

When will the flow of oil into the Loop Current shut off?
Winds over the oil spill location are expected to be light and onshore at 5 - 10 knots through Saturday. This means that the chaotic contortions of the Loop Current will primarily control how much oil gets into it, making it difficult to predict when the flow will shut off. The long range (and thus unreliable) forecast for next week from the GFS model calls for a continuation of light winds over the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Thus, the flow of oil into the Loop Current could occur intermittently for several weeks.

Who besides the Keys are at risk next week from the Loop Current oil?
As I discussed in an earlier post, the coast of Southwest Florida from Tampa Bay to the Everglades is a "Forbidden Zone" for surface-based transport of ocean water to the coast, and is probably not at risk from this week's Loop Current oil. The northwest coast of Cuba east of Havana and the coast of Southeast Florida from the Keys to West Palm Beach are at the most risk. The western shores of the western-most Bahama Islands and the U.S. coast north of West Palm Beach northwards to Cape Hatteras are at slight risk. It would likely take ocean eddies 2 - 9 weeks to transport the oil to these locations, and the oil would probably be so dilute that ecosystem damage would probably be minor, at most. At this point, I see no reason for cancellation of vacation plans to any of the beach areas that may potentially be affected by the oil.

What is happening to the plumes of oil at depth?
Two research missions over the past week have detected substantial plumes of oil at depth, moving to the southwest. The deepest of the these plumes, near the site of the blowout at 5,000 feet depth, is in a region of slow ocean currents and has not moved much. At depths closer to the surface, the currents get stronger, and oil within a few hundred feet of the surface--if there is any--could potentially have been dragged into the Loop Current. At this point, we don't have a very good picture of how much oil is at depth and where it might be headed.

Oil spill resources
My post on the Southwest Florida "Forbidden Zone" where surface oil will rarely go
My post on what oil might do to a hurricane
NOAA trajectory forecasts
Deepwater Horizon Unified Command web site
Oil Spill Academic Task Force
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

The tropics
For those of you interested in a detailed look at the early season tropical weather outlook, consult the excellent wunderblogs of StormW and Weather456, who are now featured bloggers for the coming hurricane season. We have some models predicting a possible subtropical storm off the U.S. East coast next week, but this does not appear to be a significant concern for land areas at this time. More concerning is the possibility that an area of disturbed weather will develop across the Western Caribbean late next week. While wind shear will likely keep anything in the Western Caribbean from developing, several models are predicting that this disturbance may bring major flooding rains to earthquake-ravaged Haiti late next week.

I'll be back with a new post Wednesday afternoon.

Jeff Masters

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 620 - 570

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25Blog Index

620. Levi32
3:21 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Laila's eyewall is trying to close off. Very intense spiral bands are raking Chennai and the nearby coastline.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
619. pottery
3:20 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Quoting Patrap:
Other than the thing in Tromso, Norway when I was in the USMC NATO Exercise in 84,I wAS a lil skeered..or a lil creeped out by the Miss UFO thingee

Or kinda unable to explain some tings.

Go figure?

You saw a Troll in Norway? They exist there, you know. Live under bridges and stuff. Eat Billy Goats.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23080
618. Patrap
3:16 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Quoting RitaRefugee:
This might have been mentioned earlier, but I swear I thought I heard one of the talking heads insisting this morning that the oil "IS NOT IN THE LOOP CURRENT" yeah, right.


BP Updates us on things
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
617. Patrap
3:14 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Other than the thing in Tromso, Norway when I was in the USMC NATO Exercise in 84,I wAS a lil skeered..or a lil creeped out by the Miss UFO thingee

Or kinda unable to explain some tings.

Go figure?
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
616. RitaRefugee
3:12 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
This might have been mentioned earlier, but I swear I thought I heard one of the talking heads insisting this morning that the oil "IS NOT IN THE LOOP CURRENT" yeah, right.
Member Since: August 16, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 102
615. Patrap
3:11 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
I was young teenager when this supposedly happen..way east of us.

The Pascagoula, Mississippi Abduction (Hickson/Parker)
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
614. pottery
3:10 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Quoting Patrap:
U betcha pottery,..


I see the oil flow constantly in my head in a loop I told my lawyer and shrink at the VA today.


..and the smell made me nauseous during Craig Ferguson coming in the AC

I got dizzy in Bed.

Dizzy in bed is not good. Especially if you were'nt drinkin'
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23080
613. RitaRefugee
3:09 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
It's an old one, but a good one. Thanks!
Member Since: August 16, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 102
612. Patrap
3:09 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Quoting RitaRefugee:
LOL, Pat. Reminds me of the two Cajuns who saw the UFO land on the levee and aliens got out. First said, "What do we do?" Second said, "Cook some rice."


or make a roux..your choice in that suit
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
611. pottery
3:09 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Quoting RitaRefugee:
LOL, Pat. Reminds me of the two Cajuns who saw the UFO land on the levee and aliens got out. First said, "What do we do?" Second said, "Cook some rice."

BRILLIANT!! That made me laff out loud!
I wish Press was here...
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23080
610. atmoaggie
3:07 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Quoting RitaRefugee:
LOL, Pat. Reminds me of the two Cajuns who saw the UFO land on the levee and aliens got out. First said, "What do we do?" Second said, "Cook some rice."

LOL!
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
609. RitaRefugee
3:06 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
LOL, Pat. Reminds me of the two Cajuns who saw the UFO land on the levee and aliens got out. First said, "What do we do?" Second said, "Cook some rice."
Member Since: August 16, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 102
608. doabarrelroll
3:06 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Quoting Patrap:
,,I ate all the cookies..

worrying today.

I wanna go to Grand Isle.


Please clarify:
All the cookies at home, the walmart, in Louisiana?

What kind of cookies?
Oreo, Chips Ahoy, fresh baked?
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 486
607. Patrap
3:05 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
U betcha pottery,..


I see the oil flow constantly in my head in a loop I told my lawyer and shrink at the VA today.


..and the smell made me nauseous during Craig Ferguson coming in the AC

I got dizzy in Bed.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
606. atmoaggie
3:04 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Quoting HaboobsRsweet:
Thanks Storm W for that link about the model changes. One thing I noticed is that the changes to GFS seem great but it is to help it intializtion. So until a storm appears the upgrade probably has little affect. However it appears once it picks up on a live storm it will intialize better and give a more accurate track. that should be very helpful later on this season. But as the old saying goes, junk in means junk out and since that Low hasnt formed yet, the forecast could still have big flaws.

BUT, the NICAM the JMA was running showed that the MJO is far better resolved with a higher resolution global model. 27 km GFS? I'm willing to be optimistic.

They published a study a couple of years ago showing cyclogenesis through landfall 8 days later of a typhoon with a model run for 20 days. Very near to what actually happened...(wish I could find a link...and what the resolution was)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
605. pottery
3:03 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Quoting Patrap:


Oil nightmares again..?

they seem to keep comin' back, dont they?
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23080
604. Patrap
3:02 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
,,I ate all the cookies..

worrying today.

I wanna go to Grand Isle.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
603. Patrap
3:02 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Quoting atmoaggie:

Could be that boat wake would deposit the oil further into the marsh? Thus the denial of access by water?

Just trying to figure out why/how...

(couldn't sleep...)


Oil nightmares again..?
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
602. pottery
3:00 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Quoting atmoaggie:

Could be that boat wake would deposit the oil further into the marsh? Thus the denial of access by water?

Just trying to figure out why/how...

(couldn't sleep...)

i know the feeling..
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23080
601. atmoaggie
2:59 AM GMT on May 19, 2010
Quoting JamesSA:


LOL! Oh no, never here.

"When CBS News tried to reach the beach, covered in oil, a boat of BP contractors with two Coast Guard officers on board told us to turn around under threat of arrest. Coast Guard officials said they are looking into the incident."

Could be that boat wake would deposit the oil further into the marsh? Thus the denial of access by water?

Just trying to figure out why/how...

(couldn't sleep...)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
Shoreacres, go to post 564. follow the link, Then click 'comments'.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23080
Evening, all!
Member Since: August 16, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 102
Quoting aspectre:
502 MyrtleCanes "why dont they put a vacuum tube over the broken pipe instead of in it?"

Because a pump can suck water up only 10meters (actually a minor bit less, say ~32feet). When sucking up water from a tube inserted into a pool 20meters down, the water column inside the pipe breaks at 10metres, and the weight of the water beneath 10metres produces a literal (near)vacuum under the breakpoint.
Then the top 10metres is sucked through the pump while the lower 10metres falls back down to the pool.

Once the top 10metres goes through the pump, the pump is literally sucking on next-to-nothing.
Since those pumps are usually water-cooled, the pump motor will probably burn out, unless the motor has an automatic shutdown switch that prevents overheating.

Basicly the same thing for sucking up crude oil, except crude oil is lighter than water. And thus a suction pump can pull up a ~12metre (say ~36foot) column of crude oil before the vacuum breaks: ie the column splits in two; one heading up and the other falling back down.
Very true. But that applies at atmospheric pressure (sea level).
In this case, the oil has pressure behind it and unless the pipe was sealed, there would be the pressure of 5000 ft. of water on it too. I think that is about 2500 psi at that depth.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23080
Quoting doabarrelroll:


No quite sure how to take that... Thanks!?

Anytime..

Wink,wink..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
@pottery

Do you have a link for a clarifying statement from the Coast Guard? Been looking and can't find anything ~ thx
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Part of the article:

Why deep-water oil spills do their damage deep down

16:03 18 May 2010 by Phil McKenna
For similar stories, visit the Energy and Fuels Topic Guide
Surface slicks may account for as little as 2 per cent of the oil now spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, according to a study of a controlled deep-water spill conducted in 2000 by the US Minerals Management Service and a consortium of oil companies, including BP.

The study challenges the estimate by federal officials, based on the amount of oil on the sea surface, that around 5000 barrels (800 cubic metres) of oil per day are pouring into the sea from the site where the BP-operated drilling rig Deepwater Horizon was destroyed by fire last month. It also adds weight to reports of massive underwater oil plumes that government officials are now downplaying.

In June 2000, Project Deep Spill released hydrocarbons into the sea off the coast of Norway at a depth of about 800 metres. The tests included releases of 60 cubic metres of crude oil and 60 cubic metres of diesel fuel over separate 1-hour periods.

Researchers were unable to calculate the amount of crude oil that surfaced because it emulsifies or mixes with water. They did, however, determine that only between 2 and 28 per cent of the diesel fuel that was released rose to the surface. The average was 8.7 per cent.

Under a controlled, well-monitored experiment, you couldn't find it all, says environmental engineer Eric Adams of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Now you've gone deeper by a factor of 2, with a more violent release; it's not surprising that you might not see it all."

The large percentage of diesel fuel that went missing in the 2000 study was put down to evaporation and natural dispersion. In a 2005 review of the experiment, however, Adams suggests that much of the diesel fuel and crude oil remained submerged in the form of droplets that only slowly made their way to the surface.

In the Deepwater Horizon spill, the chances of oil remaining below the surface are even greater, Adams says. If oil mixes with water at depth, the high density of this water can balance out the hydrocarbons' natural buoyancy. "It can reach a point where the aggregate density of water and oil is neutral to its surrounding environment."
Member Since: October 18, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 3052
Quoting Patrap:


As expected..the wisdom shines thru again.

LOl

One for Katrina and One for BP
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 486
502 MyrtleCanes "why dont they put a vacuum tube over the broken pipe instead of in it?"

Because a pump can suck water up only 10meters (actually a minor bit less, say ~32feet). When sucking up water from a tube inserted into a pool 20meters down, the water column inside the pipe breaks at 10metres, and the weight of the water beneath 10metres produces a literal (near)vacuum under the breakpoint.

Then the top 10metres is sucked through the pump while the lower 10metres falls back down to the pool.

Once the top 10metres goes through the pump, the pump is literally sucking on next-to-nothing.
Since those pumps are usually water-cooled, the pump motor will probably burn out, unless the motor has an automatic shutdown switch that prevents overheating.

Basicly the same thing for sucking up crude oil, except crude oil is lighter than water. And thus a suction pump can pull up a ~12metre (say ~36foot) column of crude oil before the vacuum breaks: ie the column splits in two; one heading up and the other falling back down.

That's why you put a pump at the bottom of a pipe under the waterline (ie under the surface of the pool) so that the pump pushes water up the pipe. And it can't go dry (break vacuum) because the intake is always underwater.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting doabarrelroll:


Yea looks like their going to have to just win another superbowl, that will show em'


As expected..the wisdom shines thru again.

We calling it.."TWO Dat:
LOL

Saints Vs Viking Sept 9th Thursday to Kickoff the 2010 Season Opener.


Superdome

Come Oil or High Water
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
Quoting Levi32:
Laila approaching landfall....half of an eyewall is evident on doppler radar and visible satellite:







Looks that way on the microwave 89GHz imagery.


Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
Bad choice teeing off Cajuns in Se. La. who been screwed by Katrina, and now BP.

Really bad mojo.


Things have a way of turning around and biting you real hard, in tender places.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23080
Quoting Patrap:
Bad choice teeing off Cajuns in Se. La. who been screwed by Katrina, and now BP.

Really bad mojo.



Yea looks like their going to have to just win another superbowl, that will show em'
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 486
Quoting pottery:

The US Coast Guard is working under the authority of BP?
Well, I'll be dammed...
OK, a statement on that was issued by the Coast Guard. Seems there was a mix-up! But !!!
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23080
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
Laila approaching landfall....half of an eyewall is evident on doppler radar and visible satellite. She is now at hurricane strength, 65 knots.





Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
Bad choice teeing off Cajuns in Se. La. who been screwed by Katrina, and now BP.

Really bad mojo.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
Coast Guard and BP Threaten CBS reporters covering Louisiana oil with arrest:

Coast Guard Under BP Rules
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
CNN is destroying BP.. they are attacking them non stop.. I just wish more news stations would do the same..

they are saying BP is lying, and has absolutely no credibility.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting StormW:
Good night all!


Night Storm :)
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26455
Thanks Storm W for that link about the model changes. One thing I noticed is that the changes to GFS seem great but it is to help it intializtion. So until a storm appears the upgrade probably has little affect. However it appears once it picks up on a live storm it will intialize better and give a more accurate track. that should be very helpful later on this season. But as the old saying goes, junk in means junk out and since that Low hasnt formed yet, the forecast could still have big flaws.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 414 Comments: 125613
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
yes and as storm watch stated the final upgrade in june

I will have to take a look at the parameters but changes to models just mean they are unproven again and we have to relearn the new shortfalls. Resolution is nice so we can see more detail but the output from the algothrim does not change. You will just see more detail in the gradient. I dunno we will see but still dont trust the GFS during transition season. I still watch anything that it picks up because it could pan out, just low confidence at the moment.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Not exactly all the way into the loop current. Riding the edge.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting AstroHurricane001:


Censorship of the press by BP?


Naaaahh..no way. Why would they even think to do something like that? What could they POSSIBLY have to hide??

a gazzillion barrels of oil destroying the gulf coast, that's what!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
You should read this (posted on New Scientist, by Phil McKenna):

Why deep-water oil spills do their damage deep down

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18927
Member Since: October 18, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 3052
Quoting Patrap:


Shame it's dark, theres a really nice hook on that storm finally, and it's over open farmland so it'd be awesome to see the actual storm right now.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting JamesSA:
Here is video of that incident... Link

Coast Guard Under 'BP's Rules'
Kelly Cobiella reports that a CBS News team was threatened with arrest by Coast Guard officials in the Gulf of Mexico who said they were acting under the authority of British Petroleum.

The US Coast Guard is working under the authority of BP?
Well, I'll be dammed...
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23080

Viewing: 620 - 570

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25Blog Index

Top of Page

About JeffMasters

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