Loop Current Eddy cuts off; oil danger to Keys now greatly reduced

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:24 PM GMT on May 28, 2010

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A major ocean current re-alignment is underway the Gulf of Mexico right now, and the new configuration that is developing greatly reduces the threat of oil entering the Loop Current and affecting the Florida Keys and U.S. East Coast. As I explain in my Loop Current Primer, the Loop Current is an ocean current that transports warm Caribbean water through the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico. The current flows northward into the Gulf of Mexico, then loops southeastward just south of the Florida Keys (where it is called the Florida Current), and past the western Bahamas. Here, the waters of the Loop Current flow northward along the U.S. coast and become the Gulf Stream. With current speeds of about 0.8 m/s, the Loop Current is one of the fastest currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Every 6 - 11 months, the top bulge of the Loop Current cuts off, forming a 250-mile diameter circular eddy in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. This clockwise-spinning eddy is filled with warm water from the Loop Current, and is called a Loop Current Eddy. The main body of the Loop Current then takes a fairly direct eastward path from the Yucatan Channel to the Florida Keys.

Over the past two days, surface currents in the Gulf of Mexico have aligned to form a Loop Current Eddy, as seen in the analysis of surface currents done by the U.S. Navy (Figure 1, and see also a 30-day animation of the eddy forming.) It remains to be seen if the deep water currents have followed suit, and a stable Loop Current Eddy cannot exist until the deep water currents also cut off into a clockwise-rotating ring of water at depth. A NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft is out over the Gulf of Mexico today dropping expendable buoys and current probes to determine if a stable Loop Current Eddy has formed. Roffer's Ocean Fishing Forecast Service has a nice discussion on the Loop Current Eddy formation.


Figure 1. Comparison of surface currents in the Gulf of Mexico on May 19 (top) and May 27 (bottom) as simulated by the HYCOM model. On May 19, the Loop Current made a large northward loop into the Gulf, and was able to transport oil from the near the spill location southwards through the Keys. By May 27, this loop had cut off, and new oil moving southwards from the spill will now be trapped in the clockwise rotating Loop Current Eddy that is cut off from the Loop Current. Note on the west side of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Texas, there is an old Loop Current Eddy that cut off from the Loop Current in July 2009. This eddy cut off in the same location as this week's eddy, and has drifted west-southwestward at 3 - 5 km per day over the past ten months. Image credit: U.S. Navy.

If the eddy does remain in place, it will greatly reduce the chances of oil making it to Cuba, the Florida Keys, and beyond. Any oil moving southwards from the spill location will now become entrained in the eddy, and will move in a 250 mile-wide clockwise circle in the east-central Gulf of Mexico. A small portion the oil will get shed away from the eddy's periphery and make it into the Loop Current and waters surrounding the eddy, but the concentrations of oil doing so will be small. Keep in mind, though, that during the first 1 - 2 months that a Loop Current Eddy forms, it is common for the eddy to exchange substantial amounts of water with the Loop Current, and in some cases get re-absorbed into the Loop Current. A 1-year animation of the Loop Current shows that the last Loop Current Eddy, which cut off in mid-July 2009, experienced a 2-week period in early August when it re-attached to the Loop Current. A significant portion of any oil entering the eddy during a period of re-attachment will be able to enter the Loop Current and flow past the Keys.

One bad result of the eddy breaking off is that now we have an extra source of heat energy for passing hurricanes during the upcoming hurricane season. Loop Current eddies have high-temperature water that extends to great depth, and hurricanes passing over such eddies often undergo rapid intensification. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita of 2005 both underwent rapid intensification as they passed over warm Loop Current eddies in 2005. The formation of a Loop Current Eddy during hurricane season means that a much greater portion of the Gulf of Mexico has deep, warm water capable of fueling rapid intensification of hurricanes.

Oil spill update
Light offshore northwesterly winds are expected to blow over the northern Gulf of Mexico today through Saturday, resulting decreased threats of oil to the Louisiana shore, according to the latest trajectory forecasts from NOAA. These offshore winds may be able to transport oil southwards into the Loop Current Eddy that just formed; a streamer of oil moving southeastward into the Loop Current Eddy is visible in yesterday's NASA MODIS imagery (Figure 2). Winds will shift to onshore out of the south on Saturday night, then shift to southwesterly by Tuesday. The long-range forecast from the GFS model indicates continued southwesterly winds all of next week. If this forecast verifies, we will see our greatest chances yet of significant amounts of oil reaching the beaches of Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle.


Figure 2. Visible satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico taken at 2:55pm EDT Thursday May 27, 2010, by the MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite. Thin streaks of oil can be seen moving southeast and then southwest around the eastern side of the new Loop Current Eddy. Image credit: NASA.

Oil spill resources
My post, What a hurricane would do the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
My post Wednesday with answers to some of the common questions I get about the spill
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
Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery from the University of Miami

Central American disturbance
The Atlantic is currently quiet, with none of our reliable global forecast models predicting tropical cyclone development over the next 6 days. There is an area of disturbed weather (90E) just off the Pacific coast of Mexico that will be a major concern for southern Mexico and much of Central America over the next 3 - 4 days. The disturbance will bring heavy rains to Central America during the weekend, potentially bringing serious flooding rains to portions of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. NHC is giving the disturbance a high (>60% chance) of the disturbance developing into a tropical depression by Sunday. Wunderbloggers Weather456 and StormW have more on the tropics.


Figure 3. Satellite image of the Central American disturbance 90E this morning.

Join the "Hurricane Haven" with Dr. Jeff Masters: a new Internet radio show
Beginning next week, I'll be experimenting with a live 1-hour Internet radio show called "Hurricane Haven." The show will be aired at 4pm EDT on Tuesdays, with the first show June 1. Listeners will be able to call in and ask questions. Some topics I'll cover on the first show:

1) What's going on in the tropics right now
2) Preview of the coming hurricane season
3) How a hurricane might affect the oil spill
4) How the oil spill might affect a hurricane
5) New advancements in hurricane science presented at this month's AMS Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology
6) Haiti's vulnerability to a hurricane this season

I hope you can tune in to the broadcast, which will be at http://www.wunderground.com/wxradio/wubroadcast.h tml. If not, the show will be recorded and stored as a podcast.

I'll be back with at least one update over the coming 3-day Memorial Day weekend. Have a great holiday!

Jeff Masters

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157. beell
Passed on to me from a WU Blogger who prefers her sense of humor to remain somewhat anonymous.

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Hello all back this year and I may want to interact more I am on my blackberry so it is not that easy. Was wondering what anyone thinks the low in the pacific may actually make it to south florida especially now with this eddy possibly allowing for it to strengthen. Would love all input.
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i see some feistiness has rolled over into today.
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Quoting Jeff9641:


Hey Pat sorry for being out of line yesterday as I was in a bad mood and certain people got under my skin.


fergeetaboutit..

Ive been here 5 years now,and the Body Armor works fine,..we all have passion for what we love and believe in.

You an I are no different in that regard.


We all Live on 3rd rock out from SOL.








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Quoting TampaSpin:


Don't know but, the bottle water busniess could become a premium investment.
bottle water isn't as clean as one may think
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Good morning all.

Tropical Tidbit for Friday, May 28th
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Quoting Patrap:


We've been posting the Tech suggestion Number for 26 days here.

Cyclonebuster got a verbal warning to stop calling.



* CONTACT: WILDLIFE (866) 557-1401
* OIL ON LAND / BOOM ISSUES (866) 448-5816
* TECH/SUGGESTIONS (281) 366-5511
* DAMAGE CLAIM (800) 440-0858



oh sorry I forgot to warn you that post was "Sarcasm Flag Up"
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those concerned about the horrible chance that drinking has been contaminated, my husband has done reverse osmosis for the last 14 years. IT WILL PURIFY ANY WATER. they have units that go under your sink.

morning all!
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Quoting gator23:


Interesting, you think that they have a chemical that turns oil clear. I agree, why dont they just drop a pipe down there to pick up the oil! Brilliant! Man it is so simple why didnt anyone come up with that? Question now is who do we call to tell them your great idea!?


We've been posting the Tech suggestion Number for 26 days here.

Cyclonebuster got a verbal warning to stop calling.



* CONTACT: WILDLIFE (866) 557-1401
* OIL ON LAND / BOOM ISSUES (866) 448-5816
* TECH/SUGGESTIONS (281) 366-5511
* DAMAGE CLAIM (800) 440-0858

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143. xcool
Interesting. to see cross over 90E
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Quoting Jeff9641:


Exactly! I like Bush but he did do a lot of damage and that damage had to roll on somebody.


Right, but then you have guys like OZ who blame OBAMA for everything including an earthquake in Vanuatu. Short memories, that last eight years had 2 wars, Katrina, 2 economic collapses and terrorist attacks, and all of that wasnt Bush although some of it is directly his doing.
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I have a newbie question for you guys.... I have been watching clouds build all morning over spring hill and wonder when will they start showing up on radar? I think I even heard thunder a few minutes ago.
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Quoting Patrap:
, but they lucked out pretty much that something like this didn't occur when they was President.

Well.if you recall,dat Katrina thingee didnt pan out to well for "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" Georgie and the Boyz, as his numbers went South literally then and he never recovered,

..thanx to the sane Voting Electorate in America.

And some wicked blogging by me and others,

..snicker,hizz,chuckle!!


Bet if Katrina had happened before his 2nd election, he would not have been re-elected.
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Quoting TampaSpin:


First of all i would not allow the oil to sink and put chemicals to keep it under the water! Think of the reason they did that other than sight unseen is better for them. Secondly, why turn the oil clear. Its still in the water. Same reason. If it floats at least we know what we are dealing with and what we need to clean up.

What would i do...would it be that difficult to take a pipe that starts out the size 150ft wide drop it down on the flow and keep stacking pipes to the top as they could become smaller as it goes up.......then collect the oil at the surface.


Interesting, you think that they have a chemical that turns oil clear. I agree, why dont they just drop a pipe down there to pick up the oil! Brilliant! Man it is so simple why didnt anyone come up with that? Question now is who do we call to tell them your great idea!?
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Quoting Patrap:
, but they lucked out pretty much that something like this didn't occur when they was President.

Well.if you recall,dat Katrina thingee didnt pan out to well for "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" Georgie and the Boyz, as his numbers went South literally then and he never recovered,

..thanx to the sane Voting Electorate in America.

And some wicked blogging by me and others,

..snicker,hizz,chuckle!!


He was in his second term at that point anyway.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Not necessairly. Desalination plants nowadays cheifly use osmotic pressure through membranes--distillation is too energy intensive and costly. So oil could mess up the membranes.

And a distillation plant would have to contend with voilatile chemicals from the oil vaporizing, and then recondensing in the distilled water. So that's not good either.
Yes, I agree. I was thinking about the flash distillation plants they have on some ships that boil seawater under a vacuum using waste engine heat.

I can imagine it would be a major problem for the membranes on larger land based systems. I suspect it might ruin them.

What a mess! Yuck!
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Quoting CaneWarning:
Gov. Crist just told Floridians to go fishing. :)

Link


I just renewed my fishing license, and Snook stamp, this morning in Tallahassee for the trip to Miami this weekend......Gonna Hit Biscayne Bay on Sunday morning with the Old Buds for Snook and Trout....... :)
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Quoting CaneWarning:


You know we have a Desalination plant in Hillsborough County. I wonder if the spill could cause problems with that too.


Don't know but, the bottle water busniess could become a premium investment.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
Gov. Crist just told Floridians to go fishing. :)

Link
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127. xcool
lmao joe go off
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Oldie but goodie:


I like it.
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Quoting fsumet:
I just wanted to say what I found interesting from the hurricane conference a little while ago.

The number of storms that is being forecast from the ECMWF is 18-28 with 260-312% ACE.
The UKMET also was 16-25 if I remember correctly, the ACE was also up to 312%. I don't remember the lower range but it was over 200% as well.


Any link to that?
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123. xcool
Patrap:wow lol
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121. xcool
I Love Track hurricanes...
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Quoting JamesSA:

Desalination plants using any kind of a distillation process would end to concentrate hydrocarbons rather than removing them. I would think it would be a big problem. If it were just a very tiny amount carbon filtration would absorb it, but we may not be talking tiny amounts. That is a concern.


I agree. I haven't even heard it mentioned on local news, but then again the experts say something strange would have to happen for Tampa Bay to get any oil.
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Quoting Patrap:



Well I hope your depression dosent get into the Loop current JFV.

Stay indoors for,say like..till November.
LMAO.
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Quoting FIU2010:
i feel all depressed when the tropics are dead, i cant stand it, :(


Well I hope your depression dosent get into the Loop current JFV.

Stay indoors for,say like..till November.
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That's a lot of moisture.

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Quoting FIU2010:
i feel all depressed when the tropics are dead, i cant stand it, :(


You should get help for that since the tropics are quiet the majority of the year. Don't worry, soon enough a storm will be headed right for you.
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Quoting CaneWarning:


You know we have a Desalination plant in Hillsborough County. I wonder if the spill could cause problems with that too.

Desalination plants using any kind of a distillation process would end to concentrate hydrocarbons rather than removing them. I would think it would be a big problem. If it were just a very tiny amount carbon filtration would absorb it, but we may not be talking tiny amounts. That is a concern.
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113. xcool
FIU2010 not for long,,,
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Pretty bad conditions over Jamaica at the moment.

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110. myway
Link did not take. Article can be found here.

www.lacoast.gov/watermarks/1999c-summer/2offshore
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109. xcool
Hurricanes101:lmao
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Quoting Jeff9641:


Pat I agree, this isn't just Obama this has been going on since the Bush admistration. We give these oil companies to much slack and that needs to stop.


exactly but how many posts over the last weeks have used this disaster as a way to lash out at why they dont like Obama. They fail to realize that this has to do with things that went on way before he became President. While I agree he didn't do anything to change things and help prevent this, but he is the one that is having to deal with the disaster. It could have easily been Bush or someone else dealing with it, but they lucked out pretty much that something like this didn't occur when they was President.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
CaneWarning, Over 80% of our seafood is imported already.

Florida and Georgia both have laws that a restaurant can say 'local caught', 'fresh caught' or 'locally fished' on their menus if they get their seafood from a local distributor even if the distributor imports all its seafood.


Yeah, but I don't really trust that either. We had places in Tampa selling "grouper" that turned out to be something else. Those laws are fine if people actually follow them. I don't really trust everywhere to follow them. Luckily I have a ton of frozen fish at home to keep me happy for a while.
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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.