Gulf Oil Spill: Where the Slick May Go

The National Center for Atmospheric Research, which does a lot of computer modeling of the air and oceans, has put together a simulation of where the oil from the Deepwater Horizon might go over the next hundred days. In a word: far. Take a look at the animation they posted today: "I've had a lot of people ask me, 'Will the oil reach Florida?'" said NCAR scientist Synte Peacock in a statement today. "Actually, our best knowledge says the scope of this environmental disaster is likely to reach far beyond Florida, with impacts that have yet to be understood." Peacock and her team take pains to say their simulation is not a forecast. The "oil" in their computer model behaves more as dye would; the computer does not see it as being different from the water around it except for color. "Unlike oil, the dye has the same density as the surrounding water, does not coagulate or form slicks, and is not subject to chemical breakdown by bacteria or other forces," they write. Still, it offers a scenario of how fluid released from the accident site would flow over time if it is not stopped. It would be caught in the Loop Current in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, which would feed into the Gulf Stream and travel northeastward from Florida. Some of the spill in this scenario might well reach the coast of Europe, though by then it would probably be highly diluted. The accident, says NCAR, happened in "a relatively stagnant area of the Gulf...." but if it is picked up by the Loop Current, speeds would pick up to 40 miles per day, "and when the liquid enters the Atlantic's Gulf Stream it can travel at speeds up to about 100 miles per day, or 3,000 miles per month." As you see in the animation, only after about 70 days -- about a month from now -- does the simulated oil begin to shoot around the bottom of the Florida peninsula and out into the Atlantic. What will actually happen? That depends on a lot of factors, beyound the realm of this computer simulation. NCAR has posted more HERE.

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