Clouds, unstable Loop Current making oil spill prediction difficult

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

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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

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Quoting StormW:
Good evening,

I have put together some indicators that we look at as far as determining an active season vice below average season. I tried not to get into too much detail, just briefly mentioning
some of the parameters I utilize. I hope it is arranged that you can make some sense of it.

2010 HURRICANE SEASON ACTIVITY INDICATORS


Evening Storm. :)
Member Since: August 15, 2008 Posts: 10 Comments: 3665
Quoting Patrap:
Termite Swarms began in Ernest here last night.

Big Uns.

The Chimps really dig Um..as they working on the GFS solution and their MJO forecast.

They love a 40 Watt bulb too,really brings um in

Suprised I have not seen the termites here yet.
Maybe the fires did a job on them...
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Quoting Weather456:


how about these:











hi 456 i like the 2nd too maps
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Quoting pottery:
The rains over the past few days has resulted in a swarm of flying ants, each one the size Nebraska, and with Mandibles of Death on their front ends. They have just come out.
I am sitting in a house with all the lights off, and spotlights shining into the garden to encourage them to stay out there. The only light in here is from this monitor screen.
If I go missing, call the Insect Vector Control Unit, then the Undertaker.
Thanks.


Oh. yes we know.. They escaped from the set of THEM!...
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Quoting Tazmanian:




i think that map is overe doing the sea tempers a littel


how about these:









Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Termite Swarms began in Ernest here last night.

Big Uns.

The Chimps really dig Um..as they working on the GFS solution and their MJO forecast.

They love a 40 Watt bulb too,really brings um in
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
If ya have NatGeoTV on your box, ya might want to check out "Storm Worlds, Cosmic Fire" that is on right now and can be accessed by the start over capabilities most have now :)
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361. 900MB
Quoting wunderkidcayman:


long time no see 900MB was kinda wondering when you will be coming back on


Thanks! I love being here, and I generally keep my mouth shut and keep it to you experts. You guys are an amazing source of info! I'm pretty good with intensification and possible development (spotting), but that is from 30 years of watching, not a scientific background. SSTs are a big deal for me and I just can't believe where they are for this time of year, so my interest is peaked early this year. I wouldn't be surprised to see an earlier than usual stream of activity. I think intensification will come quickly assuming the shear is favourable.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
The rains over the past few days has resulted in a swarm of flying ants, each one the size Nebraska, and with Mandibles of Death on their front ends. They have just come out.
I am sitting in a house with all the lights off, and spotlights shining into the garden to encourage them to stay out there. The only light in here is from this monitor screen.
If I go missing, call the Insect Vector Control Unit, then the Undertaker.
Thanks.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Quoting NttyGrtty:
oooo, sorry, forgot you were THE script writter for Jeff's blog NANCY




Seems some one has a lil space rented in their head for me.

Always a flattering moment.

Thanks,..

One can so easily use the iggy feature.

Watch..I'll show ya..

"Boing"..............................
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Quoting Stormchaser2007:

Looks like its already begun.




i think that map is overe doing the sea tempers a littel
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Quoting Weather456:
Tradewind anomalies have weakened, expect another upsurge in SSTs going into June.
SSTs in the SW Caribbean really going to warm in 72 hours, this model has verified very well, btw:

30˚C = 86˚F



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Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Bloggers Round Table, Part 3

Joint Public Affairs Support Element More Videos from Joint Public Affairs Support Element RSS
Video by Lt. Scott Sagisi


..Wait for it, wait for it..

Date Taken: 05.17.2010
Posted: 05.18.2010 13:24
Video Location: LA, US
Briefs a bloggers round table on the continuing efforts to stop the oil leak caused by the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Part 3 of 7. Oilspill10


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Quoting Weather456:
Tradewind anomalies have weakened, expect another upsurge in SSTs going into June.

Looks like its already begun.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15946
Days before the 30th anniversary of the famous Mount St. Helens eruption, Mount Hood has a swarm of earthquakes.

The largest was a 3.0 about noon Friday, centered about 11 miles east of Mount Hood Village, 3.5 miles below ground.

"It stopped me in the middle of what I was doing and wondering what was that," said Mandy McMillin. who was working at the Mount Hood Adventure Shop. "I felt the whole building kind of do a little shift . . . I mean it sounded more like a noise above us. not necessarily below us."

Government Camp resident Chris Jennings was outside. "It was quick it was like 3, 4 seconds."

Scientists with U.S. Geological Survey said swarms of small earthquakes have been quietly shaking Mount Hood for the last month.

The Mt. Hood quakes even registered on the seismographs at Mount St. Helens, where USGS scientists are gearing up for the 30th anniversary of the famous 1980 eruption there.

They say earthquake swarms happen on Mount Hood several times a year, but they will play close attention to the latest swarm.

"One half of your brain is going okay this is like xyz seismic swarm we’ve seen in the past, and the other half of your brain going what do we need to prepare for if the seismic swarm doesn't end," said Cynthia Gardner with USGS.

In 2004, the reawakening of Mount St. Helens started with a seismic swarm and ended with an eruption.

Scientists don't think that's what's happening on Mount Hood right now. But it is a reminder that it was once an active volcano and it could, some day, rumble back to life
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Just an idea while thinking of the ongoing ENSO change...

Could it be possible to use the finely tuned DART buoys that are used throughout the equatorial pacific be used to detect changes in ENSO?

It would work like this... Since the DART sensors can pick up changes in ocean depth by a degree of 1x10^-3 (millimeters) and since we all know that warm water takes up more volume then cold water. Could it be possible to detect ENSO changes by the depth of the ocean?

Just my philosophical brain blabbering here but does anyone have a counter argument, or shortfall in my thinking. I am just curious.
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Quoting Patrap:
oooo, sorry, forgot you were THE script writter the blog
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
350. 900MB
Quoting wunderkidcayman:


long time no see 900MB was kinda wondering when you will be coming back on


Oh, I'm back. I try to keep my obsession to the actual hurricane season, but looks like early and often this year with those wild, I mean WILD SSTs!
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill Response

Joint Public Affairs Support Element More Videos from Joint Public Affairs Support Element RSS
Video by Lt. Scott Sagisi



Date Taken: 05.17.2010
Posted: 05.18.2010 16:38
VIRIN: 100517-N-7540C-001
Video Location: LA, US
Over flight of the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill Source, footage of skimming oil on the surface of the water, booming and drilling operations. The U.S. Coast Guard working in partnership with BP PLC, local residents and other federal agencies to prevent the spread of oil following the April 20 explosion on Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit Deep Water Horizon. (Official Navy Video by Mass Communication Specialist First Class David G. Crawford/ Released) Oilspill10


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
I'm sorry to both of you, he is on my "you know what list" now, lol.

no prob
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I want to thank all of you in here that replies to my many questions,,,Ive been interested in urricanes since the mid 1980's when my area was affected by elena and kate .i have no degrees or anything but find tropical weather so interesting..actually today found and old storm tracks book that goes back to the late 1800's there were some bad storms back then also...just a note of thanks to all of you who take the time to reply to my questions.. god bless yu all
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1386
Tradewind anomalies have weakened, expect another upsurge in SSTs going into June.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
I'm out for 15 minutes, be back in a bit.
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331- That oil that you consider post-K was floating in the water that got into homes, which is considered surge flooding.

Same nasty water pumped out and drained after K, was surged north during Rita in 05. I remember stories of oil in houses and in marshes after Rita.
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Quoting atmoaggie:
Some things are best not quoted.
Quoting pottery:

Agreed. Why do people DO that?
I'm sorry to both of you, he is on my "you know what list" now, lol.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
339. 900MB
Quoting Weather456:


hey there, good timing to return.

If you want a heads up on the season check out the 2010 outlook under recommended links at my blog.


Thanks weather. I will def check it out. My prediction- looks nasty! I just hope storms hit those prepared and that have resourses. Let's try to keep Haiti and the NE US out of it. Either would be a disaster. Hate to say it, I have a bad feeling for NE this year- hope I am wrong!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
338. IKE
Quoting 900MB:


I forgot to say hi to you Ike as well. Hope all is good. Ready for a crazy season.


Hi...back to ya!

***Lightly added salt to popcorn***
***toothpicks handy***
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Quoting NttyGrtty:
You posted post Katrina pics that are not relavent to the question asked...sheesh...rtfq sailor

I'll try to shtick to the "EIB" script RUSH.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Best just drop this before we're missing some posts.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15946
Quoting atmoaggie:
Some things are best not quoted.

Agreed. Why do people DO that?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting 900MB:
Drak, StormW, Patrap, Weather456, Cayman, Miami, NE Pats- miss you guys!

Been lurking for past few months, but I am back.
Looks like one hell of a season. Those SSTs out there are downright scary! Potential to be the worst season in decades. I have a feeling this will be one busy blog, just hope it doesn't interfere with work too much.


long time no see 900MB was kinda wondering when you will be coming back on
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332. 900MB
Quoting IKE:
Got my popcorn....Coca-Cola.

Fire away!


I forgot to say hi to you Ike as well. Hope all is good. Ready for a crazy season.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:


You can call yer Mom .... Alex.

I just posted it NG.
..for informational purpose.

Get a grip.

I made no comment..sheesh.


.."Lighten up Francis"..

Plus, K missed Challmette, didnt ya know dat ?
You posted post Katrina pics that are not relavent to the question asked...sheesh...rtfq sailor
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They outta Raisinets since Ironman 2 opened Ike..


I lub dem sucka's..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
hey all look at this


And while all this is happening marking the 1980 eruption of St. Helens, there is a report of a small earthquake swarm at St. Helens' neighbor, Mt. Hood. In fact, the USGS reports that a series of small earthquake swarms have been occurring at the Oregon volcano for the past month. These swarms are relatively common, but are still worth watching. Hood's last confirmed eruption was in 1865-6, possibly as recently as 1906.
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Some things are best not quoted.
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Quoting Weather456:



Could be as a conservative organization, they can't accept the numbers they came up with. Probably defied the law the tropical meteorology.

HEHEHEHEHEH
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326. IKE
Got my popcorn....Coca-Cola.

Fire away!
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Quoting Randrewx:
What the heck is this crap StormW?

Palm Harbor Tropical Forecast Center (PHTFC


There is no available way to comment on your blog pal.

Good grief Dr. Masters!
Why would you allow this freak back on here???




the ? you sould be asking is why sould dr m be allowing you back on
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Quoting 900MB:
Drak, StormW, Patrap, Weather456, Cayman, Miami, NE Pats- miss you guys!

Been lurking for past few months, but I am back.
Looks like one hell of a season. Those SSTs out there are downright scary! Potential to be the worst season in decades. I have a feeling this will be one busy blog, just hope it doesn't interfere with work too much.


hey there, good timing to return.

If you want a heads up on the season check out the 2010 outlook under recommended links at my blog.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting all4hurricanes:

tornadoes and waterspouts I think are the only weather systems that are able to pull surface stuff into the atmosphere
Well, also blown sea spray goes a long way in a 100 mph wind. And sea spray is from the surface, you know?
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Quoting NttyGrtty:
Patrick, a. Wikipedia =/not fact. b. post surge spread of tanked oil =/not a spill of oil in the gulf will have the same effect. we don't know what a surge will do. Calling you on this one...




.."You can call yer Mom .... Alex"...

I just posted it NG.
..for informational purposes.

Get a grip.

I made no comment..sheesh.


.."Lighten up Francis"..

Plus, K missed Challmette, didnt ya know dat ?
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Quoting Weather456:



Could be as a conservative organization, they can't accept the numbers they came up with. Probably defied the law the tropical meteorology.

Could be they are worried about being bested at their own game by a chimp...or one of us chumps.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

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About

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