Reuters reported last Friday that crude oil from the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico could eventually reach the shores of either Miami Beach or North Carolina’s barrier islands, if it connects with the ocean’s current in the right (or is that wrong?) way.
Robert Weisberg, a physical oceanographer from the University of South Florida, said in a conference call that the Loop Current which sweeps around the Gulf was in line to connect with the massive oil slick. Once such “entrainment” occurs, he said, the oil would be pulled swiftly south along Florida’s Gulf coast, and then out into the Florida Straits, which separate the United States and Cuba.
Weisberg added, “Exactly when the oil will enter the Loop Current at the surface is unknown but it appears to be imminent. It could be days or it could be longer but it looks like it’s going to happen, and it looks like it’s going to happen now sooner than later.”
Depending on local winds, however, Florida’s southwest beaches, the Florida keys, the coral reefs and the Everglades may all be spared from the oil, Weisberg added. This is because ocean circulation models show it more likely to head out to sea, beyond the Dry Tortugas islands, before getting caught in the Gulf Stream and making its way up the east cost of the United States. “Once it’s at the entrance to the Florida Straits it’s only another week or so before it could be in the vicinity of Miami or Palm Beach and one more week or so until it could be as far north as Cape Hatteras,” Weisberg said.
When asked about such a possibility, a spokesperson for NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) said her agency had no immediate forecast. “As far as the Florida Loop Current (goes), our predictions go to 72 hours out and right now the predictions are not (for) an effect on Florida at this moment,” she said.
Weisberg explained that the oil making it to shallow water is completely dependent on the winds. “Whether or not the oil makes landfall anywhere will depend on what the winds are doing at that particular point in time … It’s likely that there could be oil on the beaches in Miami but we really can’t say for sure right now.”