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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3 days to hurricanes seson..
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Quoting JamesSA:

What I see is they need to install BOP's that WORK in the worst case scenario, reliably. Not ones that just satisfy a minimum standard of some sort. It really looks like they were installing BOP's just because they were required, and paid little attention to whether they would actually do the job if called upon. If that BOP had been sufficient to do its job that rig would probably still be working and no lives would have been lost. Parts of it were not functional, and it probably wasn't rated for the pressures encountered.


All true..and if a Acoustical KILL switch would have been installed,,it would have sealed the well soon after the methane bubble was coming up..but they were not required as the request was knocked down by MMS and the Cheney Boys in 2003
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Quoting CaneWarning:


That's a good thought, but I'm sure a hurricane or even tropical storm would push the oil all over the place and out of the loop.


True enough but I was thinking short term. Just long enough to cap the well and/or get the relief well online. Unfortunately time may not be on anyone's side with the type of season forecasted.
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2010 blow out 2009 be along shot...
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Quoting myway:


President stated yesterday @ presser that the government is in charge of operations to fix the problem.


Sure, the government is "in charge" but has the capability to do nothing really. BP owns this and unfortunately all the U.S. Government can do is sit back and let them do their work. We can be "in charge" all we want and that's not going to solve anything.
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Just a tid bit for you BP makes over 800 million a day and failed to spend the few million to make repairs. I blame BP and the government as the government should have stepped in and cited these guys even months before the oil spill occured.
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2010



2009

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Quoting Patrap:
We coastal residents need to petition the FEd to the following.

If your gonna drill and recieve a permit for Deep Well Drilling,one has to drill 2 Parellel relief wells to prevent this from HAppening again.
Period.

I am drafting up the petition for signatures and will have it online early next week.

Its a good start.

What I see is they need to install BOP's that WORK in the worst case scenario, reliably. Not ones that just satisfy a minimum standard of some sort. It really looks like they were installing BOP's just because they were required, and paid little attention to whether they would actually do the job if called upon. If that BOP had been sufficient to do its job that rig would probably still be working and no lives would have been lost. Parts of it were not functional, and it probably wasn't rated for the pressures encountered.
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MiamiHurri hello ,
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Quoting xcool:
FIU2010 noooooooo


ouch, :(
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Quoting kmanislander:
I was wondering to what extent that loop eddy could simply trap a lot of that oil in a constant circular motion, sort of like a Sargasso Sea type situation where the oil would largely gather in the one spot and could be removed in time.

I know it sounds far fetched and there are the underwater currents to contend with but certainly with the surface motion being in a circle now over a very large portion of the Gulf that must be of some benefit in controlling the migration of oil onshore.

Just a thought.


That's a good thought, but I'm sure a hurricane or even tropical storm would push the oil all over the place and out of the loop.
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:
This is what I talked about yesterday.

Extreme warming.




Yeah, very scary.
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FIU2010 noooooooo
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Quoting CaneWarning:


The government doesn't have the capability to do anything. Unfortunately, BP is the expert in this matter and has shown a complete lack of concern until recently.


So has the President of the US until Recently IMO. Ask James Carville!

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Quoting CaneWarning:


The government doesn't have the capability to do anything. Unfortunately, BP is the expert in this matter and has shown a complete lack of concern until recently.


President stated yesterday @ presser that the government is in charge of operations to fix the problem.
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I was wondering to what extent that loop eddy could simply trap a lot of that oil in a constant circular motion, sort of like a Sargasso Sea type situation where the oil would largely gather in the one spot and could be removed in time.

I know it sounds far fetched and there are the underwater currents to contend with but certainly with the surface motion being in a circle now over a very large portion of the Gulf that must be of some benefit in controlling the migration of oil onshore.

Just a thought.
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Quoting Patrap:
We coastal residents need to petition the FEd to the following.

If your gonna drill and recieve a permit for Deep Well Drilling,one has to drill 2 Parellel relief wells to prevent this from HAppening again.
Period.

I am drafting up the petition for signatures and will have it online early next week.

Its a good start.


I would sign a petition that would not allow any new drilling in the gulf. :)
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moring, all, :(
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Quoting masonsnana:
Agreed, however the government sould have put a lot more pressure on BP from day ONE!!!


Agree!
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Joining competition for dumbest question/statement of the day. Does anybody know if the water temperatures are above normal this year and what does that mean.
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Quoting aspectre:
Inre 6 USSINS

What are the numbers at the bottom of your animated chart actually enumerating? ala mpg psi cm/min mph



Look at the chart - SSH, or sea surface heights.
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This is what I talked about yesterday.

Extreme warming.




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Quoting TampaSpin:


YEPPER is agree IKE......heck even the relief well is not a certainity of working. Remember this well was under construction that blew up! This was not a production station yet. So there is a lot of uncertain things we don't know yet.


Lots of cover ups going on with BP. I really feel they should be prosecuted for this as this disaster could have been prevented if they spent the few million dollars to make necessary changes & repairs. Period!
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Quoting CaneWarning:


The government doesn't have the capability to do anything. Unfortunately, BP is the expert in this matter and has shown a complete lack of concern until recently.
Agreed, however the government sould have put a lot more pressure on BP from day ONE!!!
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Quoting Jeff9641:


I agree government needs to step in and stop this. Government is still letting BP control this situation and the longer this goes on the madder I get. You can bet Obama will not be re-elected because of this.


The government doesn't have the capability to do anything. Unfortunately, BP is the expert in this matter and has shown a complete lack of concern until recently.
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Inre 6 USSINS

What are the numbers at the bottom of your animated chart actually enumerating? ala mpg psi cm/min mph

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Quoting Patrap:


No sir needed,I was an enlisted man.

Carry on.
LMAO
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Quoting IKE:


Personal opinion....I don't think this will be stopped until the relief wells are finished in August.

By then at least one significant tropical system will have affected the oil spill.

An epic disaster.


YEPPER is agree IKE......heck even the relief well is not a certainity of working. Remember this well was under construction that blew up! This was not a production station yet. So there is a lot of uncertain things we don't know yet.
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Quoting CaneWarning:


Okay, sir.


No sir needed,I was an enlisted man.

Carry on.
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We coastal residents need to petition the FEd to the following.

If your gonna drill and recieve a permit for Deep Well Drilling,one has to drill 2 Parellel relief wells to prevent this from HAppening again.
Period.

I am drafting up the petition for signatures and will have it online early next week.

Its a good start.
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Quoting IKE:


Personal opinion....I don't think this will be stopped until the relief wells are finished in August.

By then at least one significant tropical system will have affected the oil spill.

An epic disaster.
Definitely. It's going to be a bad year plus we have the Gulf of Mexico full of oil. Watch out.
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Quoting Patrap:


WTF does that imply?

BP 's blowout happened in Federal,or International Waters Sport.

Thats the kind of self centered BS we cringe at on the wnderground.

From myself on up to Jeff Masters.

.."Calamity knows no Borders sport,only mens minds and maps do"...

You recieve 24 entry demerits for that one.

LOL


Okay, sir.
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OIL SPILL LIVE CAM from the ROV
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Quoting TampaSpin:
I can't imagine what the Northen Gulf Coast folks are feeling like. This should be a great weekend to WaveRunner and sort and they can't do anything like that....This is rediculous to think that in the US some can't enjoy a day on the water because of Oil that has been spewing for nearly 40 days now..and we the US can't stop it. COME ON! This is not Exceptable!


I agree government needs to step in and stop this. Government is still letting BP control this situation and the longer this goes on the madder I get. You can bet Obama will not be re-elected because of this.
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23. IKE
Quoting TampaSpin:
I can't imagine what the Northen Gulf Coast folks are feeling like. This should be a great weekend to WaveRunner and sort and they can't do anything like that....This is rediculous to think that in the US some can't enjoy a day on the water because of Oil that has been spewing for nearly 40 days now..and we the US can't stop it. COME ON! This is not Exceptable!


Personal opinion....I don't think this will be stopped until the relief wells are finished in August.

By then at least one significant tropical system will have affected the oil spill.

An epic disaster.
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I can't imagine what the Northen Gulf Coast folks are feeling like. This should be a great weekend to WaveRunner and sort and they can't do anything like that....This is rediculous to think that in the US some can't enjoy a day on the water because of Oil that has been spewing for nearly 40 days now..and we the US can't stop it. COME ON! This is not Exceptable!
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Quoting CaneWarning:


I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it won't be a problem for Florida. It would be ironic if we are impacted especially since we weren't the state that created the problem.


A hurricane hitting Pensacola which over the last 15 years seems to be a popular spot for landfalls would coat most of the Panhandle beaches. Remember 2004 and especially 2005 when Pensacola couldn't catch a break.
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19. IKE
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.


Bad news for panhandle beaches and areas west.
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Good morning!
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NE gulf AND central gulf coast is going to have to face the fact their going to have oiled beaches this hurricane season, period.
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Quoting Jeff9641:


Yeah but it is all pooling in the NE Gulf this could have devastating ramifications when a hurricane moves in that area. This could be a situation where most of the Florida panhandle beaches could get coated with oil on the right side of the hurricane.


I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it won't be a problem for Florida. It would be ironic if we are impacted especially since we weren't the state that created the problem.
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Quoting TampaSpin:


Good for us but, bad for someone else....going anywhere is not exceptable.


We haven't even come close to seeing the worst of this disaster I'm sad to say. If a storm comes that oil has to go somewhere.
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Other major US-affecting offshore blowouts averaged 8,000to10,000barrels per day over 10days at Santa Barbara, and 11,000to12,000barrels per day over 295days at Ixtoc I, Gulf of Mexico.
Initial spill rate at Ixtoc I was ~30,000barrels per day.
The ExxonValdez wreck spilled ~11million gallons or ~262,000barrels in total.

Three different methodologies used by UnitedStatesGeologicalSurvey assessment teams have independently arrived at a minimum spill rate of 12,000barrels per day:
with the surface survey team coming up with 15,500plus-or-minus3500 barrels per day;
the plume-source measurement team coming up with 18,500plus-or-minus6500 barrels per day;
with the third team's study as yet incomplete and its methodology remaining unannounced.

Using the newly agreed-upon minimum spill rate of 12,000barrels per day, the DeepwaterHorizon spill will have released two times as much as the ExxonValdez shortly after noon on 3June2010.
Using the 17,000barrels per day average of the USGS studies released thus far, the DeepwaterHorizon spill will have released three times as much as the ExxonValdez before dawn on 6June2010.

In 2005, TropicalStorm Arlene reached near-hurricane strength in the Gulf of Mexico on June10th. And passed near what is now the DeepHorizon spill area before making landfall at the extreme western end of the Florida panhandle on June11th.
Comparisons with the day before TropicalStorm Arlene began spinning on 8June2005

28May2010

7Jun2005

28May2010

7Jun2005

28May2010
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Quoting CaneWarning:
Thank goodness for the eddy. Let's keep the oil off of Florida's coast.


Good for us but, bad for someone else....going anywhere is not exceptable.
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from the last blog:Quoting TampaSpin:


Clearwater Beach is very nice. My kids are there what seems like daily.



good pops!!!!,kids+mother nature=best thing in this world for em,imo....so much negativaty out there,but as the dali said recently"there's more compasion in the world today,then ever",IMO as a whole we are begining to care more about our impact on the earth,than in the past!!
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Quoting CaneWarning:
Thank goodness for the eddy. Let's keep the oil off of Florida's coast.


Yeah but it is all pooling in the NE Gulf this could have devastating ramifications when a hurricane moves in that area. This could be a situation where most of the Florida panhandle beaches could get coated with oil on the right side of the hurricane.
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Thank goodness for the eddy. Let's keep the oil off of Florida's coast.
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Oil Spill multiple ROV camera views:

http://edition.cnn.com/video/flashLive/live.html?stream=3
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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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