Will the Gulf oil spill reach the East Coast?

At first glance, it seems ludicrous that an oil spill way up in the Gulf of Mexico could make it all the way around Florida to the Atlantic. Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible, thanks to the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current. The Loop Current moves southeast, meets the Florida Current, and merges into the Gulf Stream.

The Gulf of Mexico Loop Current

On Twitter, Ben Landis (@younglandis) pointed us to an ocean circulation model from North Carolina State University that predicts strong eastward transport from oil-affected regions. The black arrows represent ocean currents. When there are many arrows together, that means strong currents. (The colors in this map (zeta), is a measure of sea surface height. In this case it shows different water masses, like the warm Caribbean water and the cooler Gulf Stream).

Ocean circulation predictions from NCSU

So where is the oil spill now? Unfortunately the NOAA page is down as of 10 AM PST, but here’s where the spill was yesterday. It seems well north of the fastest-moving area of the Gulf Loop Current, but this could change as the oil spreads.

NOAA Gulf Oil Spill Prediction for May 3, 2010

For more on whether the oil will reach the Atlantic coast, see this excellent blog post from Andrew Freedman at the Washington Post.

14 Replies to “Will the Gulf oil spill reach the East Coast?”

  1. Hey Guys,

    Nice idea to check the coastal circulation model, but for your readers who don’t know this model, please take it with a grain of salt. Here’s the model’s disclaimer:

    “DISCLAIMER: This nowcast/forecast system is a research product and under construction. No warranty is made, expressed or implied at this stage, regarding the accuracy or validity of model results, or regarding the suitability of the model output for any particular application

    Good food for thought though.

  2. Yikes! This is horrible. Terrible. Horrific. Dastardly. Worse than Obama’s defense policy even!

  3. @ HTN

    No point in crying over spilled oil, it was inevitable sooner or later as long as off-shore oil exploitation is taking place. What happened to your Sara Pallin Mantra “Drill! Drill! Drill!? As for anyone with bad things to say about Obama, I have only three words for you; “George W. Bush” (worst president ever). Now, shut up and watch your NASCAR.

  4. It’s incredible to think that this oil spill could actually round Florida and make it into the Atlantic. You back up your prediction well though. Science speaks! Nice post. Hopefully, this spill is contained soon and they can begin cleanup before it escalated.

  5. you say Bush is a bad president look at Obama. I mean whats he doing about the oil spill? I think he few smart people of this world know that there is a chemical that eats the oil! Now all they have to do is stop the leak and the question is, how. They also say the chemical will kill the fish, well the oil kills fish and birds in horrible suffering ways!!! Now idiots stop complaining and start doing something!!!

  6. @Ashley…this is not an episode of “24” nor CSI. There is no quick and easy answer, and every possible solution has potentially bad consequences. Oil is bad, and the oil chemicals they are using are bad…but did you ever think about what the oil and the chemicals break down into, or that they may have longer term consequences then even the oil?

  7. It really seems like more should be done we should be calling for help from all over the world. We are America and we have to know that we are not the smartest or the only ones out there that can fix this. I like Obama and voted for him but at this point 40+ days later he can not allow BP to keep calling the shots. If BP has all the tools then I believe the President of the United States of America can get his own tools… get the other oil companies involved. Our waters are delicate and so many areas are unexplored. A disaster like this has disrupted the perfect beauty of our waters. Not to mention the air quality and the people that are becoming ill. What is the long-term effect to all of us and the quality of our food supply and the food chain. We can only blame this on ourselves. Each and every one of us should have been pushing the issue for alternative energy. Other countries are using and researching the methods… why aren‘t we also researching just as hard at them? Greed it what got us here. Not our greed for oil as Americans but greedy oil companies in America and any other companies that are profiting. It is unfortunate that we, the world will all suffer for many years to come.

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