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 pottery:

30 years ago already???
Man. I'm getting younger...er, I mean, well, geeze! 30 years?
Goin by faster and faster too. Would somebody hit the brakes damit....:}
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Quoting VAbeachhurricanes:
12 days till the real season, and hopefully 20 days till the 2005 comparisons end.


The comparisons to 2005 are very valid ones.
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12 days till the real season, and hopefully 20 days till the 2005 comparisons end.
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1008 lowCARIBBEAN
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Quoting hydrus:
Hey Flood. 30 years ago today we were watching Mount ST Helens erupt and Dan Rather was giving us the frightening news.

30 years ago already???
Man. I'm getting younger...er, I mean, well, geeze! 30 years?
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24311
Quoting Floodman:


Ahh, Pottery, my dear friend, you have a world wide renown as a dastard...it's part of your charm, sir!
Hey Flood. 30 years ago today we were watching Mount ST Helens erupt and Dan Rather was giving us the frightening news.
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Joint Public Affairs Support Element More Videos from Joint Public Affairs Support Element RSS
Video by Lt. Scott Sagisi
1

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: 424 Comments: 128284
Just a look at Tropical Cyclone Laila =D

Chennai Radar
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
Someone might commit suicide. Then watch we get like 2 more named storms in the entire season. lol.


I think the 2 more named storms the rest of the season would lead to more committing suicide lol
Member Since: March 10, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 7688
Quoting Patrap:
But the video is really good quality pottery.


For sure! Pictures dont lie. This is bad stuff. I feel for you all.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24311
Quoting CybrTeddy:
Imagine how insane it would be to have 3 storms before June 1st..
Someone might commit suicide. Then watch we get like 2 more named storms in the entire season. lol.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21193
Yeah that video surfaced for the first time today. I know nothing but it looks as if well head is screwed up. That why they didn't want to use the gulf balls worried about blowing out the the well head.Hopefully they can get enough mud down the pipe or Kattie bar the door. Maybe we can find her instead of Lloyd Bridges.
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Quoting NRAamy:
Pott! what's for dinner, non-husband?


;)

You know, we have to have a talk about our Cultural differences.
Husbands here (even non-ones), have no problem cooking occasionally.
But I fear that this relationship is doomed to failure. Conditions apply. And competence in the galley, well......you know....
heheheh
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24311
Quoting CybrTeddy:
Imagine how insane it would be to have 3 storms before June 1st..


Not gonna happen, even in 2010.
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May 01, 2010 Al Jazeera looks at what engineers are facing in trying to stem the flow of oil.

They did a good job back on May 1, better than here as we saw squat

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128284
Imagine how insane it would be to have 3 storms before June 1st..
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24021
But the video is really good quality pottery.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128284
Quoting Floodman:


Ahh, Pottery, my dear friend, you have a world wide renown as a dastard...it's part of your charm, sir!

Seems so! I should have been a Lawyer.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24311
Quoting Levi32:


The low currently emerging off of Cape Hatteras will be quickly moving up the eastern seaboard toward Cape Cod, deepening as it does so (nasty wind event for Mass. by the way). This is not the system we are looking for.

We may start seeing a little something start to play around northeast of the Bahamas as soon as Thursday due to a tiny shortwave, but the actual trough-split that we are looking for doesn't actually start occurring until this weekend.


No? The models have been latching onto possible subtropical development with this area for several days now, and have not changed since.

I realize that the primary area of concern is the possible Bahamian low in about a week or so, but there is also a chance we could get something out of the Hatteras low, as well.
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Quoting gordydunnot:
Link Video of well head.

WOW!! I had not seen that before. The shot of the leak above the BOP is flowing much more than the other leak that the tube was inserted into. It shows much faster flow as well (more pressure).
Amazing! Scary! Bad Crap there....
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24311
Quoting Patrap:
Should be 2-4 million,..and some to Miss, Ala and Fla as well.



Breaking News, Business %uFFFD
BP donates $1 million to Catholic Charities and Second Harvest to help offset Gulf oil spill hardships
By The Times-Picayune
May 18, 2010, 2:11PM


BP has donated $1 million to Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana to support emergency food assistance, financial aid and counseling for fishermen and their families in coastal parishes affected by the massive Gulf oil spill.

"Our first priority in this disaster is the people who are directly impacted and unable to work right now," Archbishop Gregory Aymond said during a news conference in Chalmette. "Their livelihood and their way of life are endangered and it is our responsibility as church and as human beings to provide for them in their time of need. This gift from BP America is a blessing for us as it will allow us to continue our mission of service to those directly affected."


Lets be happy they did this lol. 1 millon can still do stuff. Hopefully more effort to donate more will be pressured out. Like Hanley Ramirez.
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Quoting Levi32:


The low currently emerging off of Cape Hatteras will be quickly moving up the eastern seaboard toward Cape Cod, deepening as it does so (nasty wind event for Mass. by the way). This is not the system we are looking for.

We may start seeing a little something start to play around northeast of the Bahamas as soon as Thursday due to a tiny shortwave, but the actual trough-split that we are looking for doesn't actually start occurring until this weekend.
Oh, thanks.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21193
Pott! what's for dinner, non-husband?


;)
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Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
I'm going to give a 33% of getting 2 named storms in May.

I believe that this trough emerging off of the east coast is the one forecasted to become something sub-tropical? Am I incorrect?



No, that's the one. Though, at the moment, it's still completely attached to the trough. No development until it detaches.
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Quoting pottery:

I have no idea where this dastardly reputation came from...


Ahh, Pottery, my dear friend, you have a world wide renown as a dastard...it's part of your charm, sir!
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Link Video of well head.
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DR. MASTERS. care to comment on this?
TIA

Quoting pottery:
Thanks for this. But what is the thinking on the 'submerged' deposits (said to be huge) that are suspended in the lower currents?
Where was this suspended oil located, anyway??
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24311
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
I'm going to give a 33% of getting 2 named storms in May.

I believe that this trough emerging off of the east coast is the one forecasted to become something sub-tropical? Am I incorrect?



The low currently emerging off of Cape Hatteras will be quickly moving up the eastern seaboard toward Cape Cod, deepening as it does so (nasty wind event for Mass. by the way). This is not the system we are looking for.

We may start seeing a little something start to play around northeast of the Bahamas as soon as Thursday due to a tiny shortwave, but the actual trough-split that we are looking for doesn't actually start occurring until this weekend.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21193
25% here
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A friend of mine showed me his idea to stop the leak for the broken pipe. He had a diagram showing a LARGER pipe fitting over the broken pipe. This would clamp down five feet past the break. He was going to forward his idea to BP. Wouldn't a larger pipe make more sense than a smaller pipe?
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Quoting pottery:

Yeah! Exactly! We seem to be going backwards with underwater stuff.
Jaques Custeau would have fixed it, long time. Or even Lloyd Bridges.



And the dolphins were cool with them..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128284
i'm back!!!
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It's a rounding error I am sure.
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this oil spill is going to be a major economic and ecological disaster! well it already is, but the worst has yet to come. and until they get the leaks plugged, theres no telling just how bad our envionment is going to suffer.

ive been a wu memmber since 2004 or 2005. fishing and the ocean is my life. without being able to go fishing or enjoy marine creatures and habitat, theres really no point in me living anywhere near the water. this disaster just breaks my heart. looking at the sat pics of the scale of this spill (and thats just the surface oil) is disheartening... i see it and i see floridas coastline getting ready to be destroyed, probably past the point of recovery in my lifetime.

sea turtles, coral reefs, mangroves, oysters, and countless other marine life will perish from this spill. livelyhoods that are based on fishing or working in the gulf will be impacted. we will lose millions if not more in tourism spending. who wants to visit an oil covered beach? property values along the waterfront will drop, effecting overall tax intakes and county/city budgets.

and thats not what scares me the most..... i REALLY worry when i think about the enevitable.... a tropical system in the gulf. not only will there be salt water inudating inland areas from the surge, but there will be oil mixed in with that surge. this oil will coat not only the beaches, but now peoples homes, their lawns, trees, and anything else the surge gets too. once the surge retreats and the rain washes the salt away, the oil will still remain, effectively killing our inland plant life. i can already see it happening and it sucks because theres nothing i can do to prevent it.

should the above scenerio occur, you will see devastation above that of katrinas
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I'm going to give a 33% of getting 2 named storms in May.

I believe that this trough emerging off of the east coast is the one forecasted to become something sub-tropical? Am I incorrect?

Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21193
Should be 2-4 million,..and some to Miss, Ala and Fla as well.



Breaking News, Business
BP donates $1 million to Catholic Charities and Second Harvest to help offset Gulf oil spill hardships
By The Times-Picayune
May 18, 2010, 2:11PM


BP has donated $1 million to Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana to support emergency food assistance, financial aid and counseling for fishermen and their families in coastal parishes affected by the massive Gulf oil spill.

"Our first priority in this disaster is the people who are directly impacted and unable to work right now," Archbishop Gregory Aymond said during a news conference in Chalmette. "Their livelihood and their way of life are endangered and it is our responsibility as church and as human beings to provide for them in their time of need. This gift from BP America is a blessing for us as it will allow us to continue our mission of service to those directly affected."
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128284
Quoting Patrap:
Where is the Trieste ..and The Navy submersibles, the Mariana Trench ones?





And a Big ol cork.


Yeah! Exactly! We seem to be going backwards with underwater stuff.
Jaques Custeau would have fixed it, long time. Or even Lloyd Bridges.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24311
Did you all see video this afternoon of the spewing well head. That's why I could not figure out why they couldn't stop the flow with the insertion pipe. Looks like well head has multiple leaks and is leaking more than the pipe.That must of been one hell of a pressure event when that gas went up the well. Hopefully the well heads shot will work or we are stuck with the relief wells.Like they say no has a clue or isn't saying how much oil is coming out of that well.
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12z GFS Ensembles:

The ensemble means show a surface low winding up at Day 6 southwest of Bermuda.



By Day 8, a piece gets taken out to the northeast, but a low gets left behind east of the Bahamas under the upper trough-split, left to slowly drift westward towards Florida underneath the blocking ridge to the north.



The low degenerates into a weak surface trough during the following days due to the model anticipating a lack of dynamics to support a subtropical storm.



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Where is the Trieste ..and The Navy submersibles, the Mariana Trench ones?





And a Big ol cork.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128284
Quoting Patrap:


Im gonna go with dat assumption as well

I have no idea where this dastardly reputation came from...
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24311
Quoting Floodman:


I;m not sure you intended (most likely,knowing you) but the phrase "suck harder" used in the same sentence with BP seems to be somehow fitting

completely unintentional, I assure you LOL
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24311
Good Evening/Afternoon whatever you wan't to call this time. lol.
Member Since: September 2, 2009 Posts: 130 Comments: 21193
Quoting Floodman:


I;m not sure you intended (most likely,knowing you) but the phrase "suck harder" used in the same sentence with BP seems to be somehow fitting


Im gonna go with dat assumption as well
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128284
Quoting pottery:

I think that the idea is, they will increase the vacuum on the inserted tube over the next few days, to suck harder. i.e lift more oil from the leak. But that was my understanding....


I;m not sure you intended (most likely,knowing you) but the phrase "suck harder" used in the same sentence with BP seems to be somehow fitting
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting Patrap:
Seems BP iz really on top of things.

Where is Wile Coyote and the ACME Order book ?

heheheheheh the roadrunner is still out in front.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24311
Seems BP iz really on top of things.

Where is Wile Coyote and the ACME Order book ?
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128284
Quoting Patrap:
Oil spill video: insertion tube at work











The second video shows BP's insertion tube at work, but huge quantities of oil are visible gushing past the device and up into the Gulf of Mexico.

I think that the idea is, they will increase the vacuum on the inserted tube over the next few days, to suck harder. i.e lift more oil from the leak. But that was my understanding....
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24311
Quoting tornadofan:
So will the US Govt allow BP to pay Cuba for any beach cleanup there?


The US government wouldn't have a say in it...that's between BP and the Cuban government. Also, bear in mind that BP is not the only company on the hook here...Haliburton and TransOcean share some liability in this matter
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 10 Comments: 9922
Quoting TropicTraveler:
I'm just wondering. Had a vision of that huge oil deposit down there and every country in the world getting out far enough to be in international waters and drilling away. I see your point about BP. I suppose the origin being British Petroleum made me think they are primarily a British company. They must have gotten permits through US assets or companies.

They purchased AMOCO...
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24311

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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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