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 Tazmanian:
124. IKE 3:31 PM PDT on May 18, 2010 Hide this comment.
Dr. Masters may be correct about a system in the SW Caribbean affecting Haiti.


this what they need


LOL!
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
-18z GFS 132 Hours-



Might we have Alex and Bonnie in May??? Guess we'll find out.


I don't know about Alex or Bonnie but we have two chances of Alex, that's pretty high.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting laflastormtracker:


My fav quote from last year, Do you think it will it loop around like Jeanne 2004?

LOL
You can never rule out a possibility but I doubt it, lol.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting docrod:


These are just subsurface drifters but the best I've found so far

Link

Not loading for me. Will try again later. Would love to see them.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24645
hey guys could we slow it down with the Comparisons maps thing its driveing me nuts

evere day i come on it like i see the same thing overe and overe and overe and overe



come on now guys dont need too see it evere day of the week
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Hi everyone...I hadnt been on since noon has there been any more model info on a system forming east of bahamas and possible affecting SE coasts??? Ijust saw where the Sw carribean system may form later and track towards hispainola?? any ifo is always appreciated!! Thanks
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
GFS 18z 54 Hours - Focus inside the pink circle. That is an area of low pressure east of the Bahamas (1012 MB)



Now we are at 120 Hours - Area of low pressure now at 1007 MB



My fav quote from last year, Do you think it will it loop around like Jeanne 2004?

LOL
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That looks like a November track than a June one even though were not in June yet.
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-18z GFS 132 Hours-



Might we have Alex and Bonnie in May??? Guess we'll find out.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
142, Is that a Vulcan Warship in front of her?

And thanks for the vid :)

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Quoting Hurricanes101:


Looks like a plausible solution


very plausible
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
124. IKE 3:31 PM PDT on May 18, 2010 Hide this comment.
Dr. Masters may be correct about a system in the SW Caribbean affecting Haiti.


this what they need
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:
hey guys soon time to hear this
Link



This is one I made in 2007

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
blog1469 post971 presslord "new estimate: 5000 barrels per day"
post1043 aspectre "Thanks for the heads-up. Certainly closer to other US-affecting offshore blowouts: 8,000to10,000barrels per day averaged over 10days at Santa Barbara; and 11,000to12,000barrels per day averaged over 295days at Ixtoc I, Gulf of Mexico.
The ExxonValdiz wreck spilled ~11million gallons. At 5,000barrels/210,000gallons per day, the DeepwaterHorizon spill will reach that level by June11th.
In 2005, TropicalStorm Arlene reached near-hurricane strength in the Gulf of Mexico on June10th."

Comparisons with the day before TropicalStorm Arlene began spinning on 8June2005

17May2010

7Jun2005

17May2010

7Jun2005

17May2010
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
156. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
India Meteorological Department
Tropical Cyclone Advisory NUMBER TEN
CYCLONIC STORM LAILA (BOB01-2010)
23:30 PM IST May 18 2010
====================================

Subject: Cyclonic Storm LAILA over southwest and adjoining westcentral Bay of Bengal:

Cyclone Warning (Orange message)

At 18:00 PM UTC, Cyclonic Storm Laila over southwest and adjoining west central Bay of Bengal moved further westward and lays centered over southwest and adjoining west central Bay of Bengal near 13.0N 82.5E, or about 240 kms east of Chennai, 530 kms west southwest of Visakhapatnam, and 1230 kms southwest of Kolkata.

3 minute sustained winds near the center is 45 knots with a central pressure of 990 hPa. The state of the sea is high around the system's center.

Satellite imagery indicates banding pattern of the system. The intensity of the system is T3.0. Associated broken intense to weak intense convection observed over the Bay of Bengal between 9.0N to 17.0N. The lowest cloud top temperature due to convection is around -93C in association with the system.

Vertical wind shear of horizontal wind over the region is 10-15 knots. The system lies to the south of tropospheric ridge, which roughly runs along 17.0N. System is under the influence of anticyclonic circulation located to the northeast of the system center. It is likely to guide the system northwest to northward after some time. Shear tendency over the past 24 hours is negative to the north of the system.

Considering all the above and numerical weather prediction model guidances, the system is likely to intensify further and move in a west northwesterly direction for more time then move in a northwesterly to northerly direction crossing Andhra Predesh coast between Ongole and Visakhapatnam on Thursday.

Forecast and Intensity
=========================
24 HRS: 15.0N 81.5E - 65 knots (Very Severe Cyclonic Storm)
42 HRS: 17.5N 82.0E - 50 knots (Severe Cyclonic Storm)
66 HRS: 19.5N 84.5E - 40 knots (Cyclonic Storm)
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I'm just not sure about the GFS pulling pretty much everything out of the Bahamas and slinging it northeast. Despite the monster longwave trough, the trough-split still occurs, and if you look at Day 9 on the GFS you can see the ghost piece all the way back over the Gulf of Mexico. I have doubts about it making a discreet exit that far west. If the Euro solution comes to pass, the longwave trough will still pick up the low, but a piece will remain behind which becomes another surface low underneath of the trough-split east of Florida. there are still some big differences between models on this situation. The run-to-run consistency isn't great either right now.

GFS Day 9 500mb (look in the gulf):

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26681
Quoting Ossqss:


Not heard of any NASA news on the item. I also wondered why they have not removed or attempted to remove the pipe at the BOP. Make one leak instead of 3 if you will......maybe I am missing something :(


Well I believe they worry that a free-flowing well (if the BOP valves are not closed at all) will be impossible to control at 5000 feet.
Bear in mind that the intended 'top shot' is going to be applied at pressure greater than what is being released now. I have no idea what the pressure is.
Also, I thought that they were going to image the condition of the internals of the BOP with ultrasound or something before they interferred with it?
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24645
GFS 18z 54 Hours - Focus inside the pink circle. That is an area of low pressure east of the Bahamas (1012 MB)



Now we are at 120 Hours - Area of low pressure now at 1007 MB

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
Quoting ElConando:
Vancouver! Vancouver!!!, this is it!!!!!!!
Wuzup El-Conando.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 21704
Quoting Weather456:
This is going to be interesting to say the least

The model is taking into account some very complex dynamics for example the high rainfall along the Hispanic southern slopes due to orographic lift.








Looks like a plausible solution
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This is going to be interesting to say the least

The model is taking into account some very complex dynamics for example the high rainfall along the Hispanic southern slopes due to orographic lift.






Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
hey guys soon time to hear this
Link

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Quoting atmoaggie:

LOL. Yeah it's real easy most days...been closed in both directions at least once today. 40,000+ use a bridge daily that gets closed sometimes...enjoy that.


Beats he heck outta going round though.

LOL
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129088
Quoting Weather456:
Becoming clearer

18Z GFS



Looks like it might have a fair chance. But for a good chance I think it'll need to linger around in the SW Caribbean just a little bit longer.
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Quoting pottery:

Yeah. It is amazing to me, that so little information is coming through......
I am begining to wonder why, because if it was good news, we would all know about it.
What happened to the NASA-type team that were mandated to solve this problem, last week? Any word?

NASA doesn't fund push-the-envelope solutions to real world problems...(okay, sometimes they do)

At least, that's my personal experience on the matter.
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Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response


www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129088
Quoting DEKRE:
They've posted an illustration of the "top kill" showing mud/cement flow from topside through the BOP.

Link

This looks good.
But note the "Status of BOP bore before pumping is uncertain".
Therein lies the uncertainty of the entire plan.......
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24645
Quoting Patrap:


Easy..cruise control and forward.




LOL. Yeah it's real easy most days...been closed in both directions at least once today. 40,000+ use a bridge daily that gets closed sometimes...enjoy that.
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.."La,la..la"..




Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Bloggers Round Table, Part 2

Joint Public Affairs Support Element More Videos from Joint Public Affairs Support Element RSS
Video by Lt. Scott Sagisi
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Date Taken: 05.17.2010
Posted: 05.18.2010 12:57
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 2 of 7. Oilspill10
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129088
Quoting pottery:

Yeah. It is amazing to me, that so little information is coming through......
I am begining to wonder why, because if it was good news, we would all know about it.
What happened to the NASA-type team that were mandated to solve this problem, last week? Any word?


Not heard of any NASA news on the item. I also wondered why they have not removed or attempted to remove the pipe at the BOP. Make one leak instead of 3 if you will......maybe I am missing something :(

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140. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
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Becoming clearer

18Z GFS

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting atmoaggie:

Today is one of those days that remind me how glad I am that I don't depend on that 24 miles of bridge over open water to get me anywhere on a daily basis...


Easy..cruise control and forward.



Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129088
According to the Euro, a deep dim ridge should set up out west cranking up the heat by the middle of next week!

At the same time a tough should build in the East(though I think it'll be too late unfortunately to steer that disturbance away from Port-ul-Prince).
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Quoting pottery:

I keep seeing vague references to a 10X3 mile 'submerged' area of oil, 300 feet thick.
But in each article (this one included) there lacks any real information on it.
Where is it?
What currents are affecting it?
How dense is it?
A research vessel has been testing for it. Have they not got some ideas?
Quoting pottery:
Post 109.
Now look again at the video earlier, of the leak at the top of the BOP.
This image gives the video some scale....the one on the video is like this one. Massive.


These are just subsurface drifters but the best I've found so far

Link
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129088
Quoting Ossqss:


OZ, are ya online with him?


Pottery, I gotta believe we have US assets in place that can tell us something about what is going on underwater. I am certain that some Sub's and or other ROV equipment could detect things like that....

This didn't happen yesterday ! WTH, sorry for the cursive acronym again ......... Did I say that right (ª¿ª?


Yeah. It is amazing to me, that so little information is coming through......
I am begining to wonder why, because if it was good news, we would all know about it.
What happened to the NASA-type team that were mandated to solve this problem, last week? Any word?
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24645
TORNADO WARNING ISSUED FOR DALHART, TX

XtremeHurricanes.com is going live in 5 minutes!
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 3887
Quoting Patrap:
2 Nasty appendages right over the Mid Causeway..possible Waterspouts.

Special Marine Warning for them.


Today is one of those days that remind me how glad I am that I don't depend on that 24 miles of bridge over open water to get me anywhere on a daily basis...
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Quoting Levi32:
18z GFS coming out is really punching the next long-wave trough down into the trough-split, reamplifying the whole thing into a positively-tilted upper trough that appears to kick the surface low out to the northeast as a mostly baroclinic entity.

The Caribbean low also winds up on this run.

168 hours:





That trough digs awfully and it provides the lifting mechanism that projects the feature towards Hispaniola.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting IKE:
Dr. Masters may be correct about a system in the SW Caribbean affecting Haiti.

18Z GFS @ 168 hours....

I hope it doesn't happen.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21194
129. DEKRE
They've posted an illustration of the "top kill" showing mud/cement flow from topside through the BOP.

Link
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re 109 - BP got their BOP from a Chinese company.
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127. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Joint Typhoon Warning Center
Tropical Cyclone Formation Alert
22:30 PM UTC May 18 2010
============================

An area of convection (93A) located at 10.5N 55.1E or 110 NM southeast of Socotra Island, Yeman. Animated infrared satellite imagery depicts a developing low level circulation center with deep convective banding over the southern semi-circle. An 1721z METOP-A image also indicates a strengthening, well defined low level circulation center with convective banding wrapping from the southwest into the northwest quadrant. The 1721z ASCAT ambiguity analysis showed a small, tight low level circulation center with 20-25 knot winds near the center and 30-35 knot winds displaced along the southwestern periphery of the low level circulation center. Upper level analysis indicates a more favorable environment with weak vertical wind shear and diffluent flow over the low level circulation center. The system is expected to continue developing, aided by the enhanced southwesterly surface flow and improved northeasterly flow over Yeman.

Maximum sustained winds near the center is 25-30 knots with a mimimum sea level pressure of 1001 hPa. The potential for this disturbance to form into a significant tropical cyclone within the next 24 hours is UPGRADED TO GOOD.
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126. Kearn
I don't understand why people are acting like idiots and saying this is the end of the freaking world. A lot of SENSIBLE!!! people I know are going "lolo we not guna hav no moar waterrr!!!"

Since when could people drink salt water? Seriously? Think before you speak, people.
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Quoting CycloneOz:
tornadodude is with practically every other storm chaser on the planet...chasing the Dalhart, TX cell. Timmer is there...but out young man correctly predicted Dalhart yesterday!

WTG t-dude!!!

Stay safe and good luck!


OZ, are ya online with him?


Pottery, I gotta believe we have US assets in place that can tell us something about what is going on underwater. I am certain that some Sub's and or other ROV equipment could detect things like that....

This didn't happen yesterday ! WTH, sorry for the cursive acronym again ......... Did I say that right (ª¿ª?

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124. IKE
Dr. Masters may be correct about a system in the SW Caribbean affecting Haiti.

18Z GFS @ 168 hours....

Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Quoting Patrap:
Imagine Chinese BOP's..?



isn't that what BP was using?
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18z GFS coming out is really punching the next long-wave trough down into the trough-split, reamplifying the whole thing into a positively-tilted upper trough that appears to kick the surface low out to the northeast as a mostly baroclinic entity.

The Caribbean low also winds up on this run.

168 hours:



Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26681
2 Nasty appendages right over the Mid Causeway..possible Waterspouts.

Special Marine Warning for them.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129088
Quoting StormW:
Good evening!


evening SW
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076

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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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