Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) is a nonprofit consortium of more than 75 universities offering Ph.D.s in the atmospheric and related sciences. UCAR also manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Yesterday, June 3, the UCAR released a detailed computer modeling study that indicates oil from the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico might soon extend along thousands of miles of the Atlantic coast and open ocean as early as this summer.
Here are excerpts from the UCAR’s news release:
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘Will the oil reach Florida?’” says NCAR scientist Synte Peacock, who worked on the study. “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.”
The computer simulations indicate that, once the oil in the uppermost ocean has become entrained in the Gulf of Mexico’s fast-moving Loop Current, it is likely to reach Florida’s Atlantic coast within weeks. It can then move north as far as about Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with the Gulf Stream, before turning east. Whether the oil will be a thin film on the surface or mostly subsurface due to mixing in the uppermost region of the ocean is not known.
The scientists used a powerful computer model to simulate how a liquid released at the spill site would disperse and circulate…. “The modeling study is analogous to taking a dye and releasing it into water, then watching its pathway,” Peacock says. The dye tracer used in the model has no actual physical resemblance to true oil. 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.
Peacock and her colleagues stress that the simulations are not a forecast because it is impossible to accurately predict the precise location of the oil weeks or months from now. Instead, the simulations provide an envelope of possible scenarios for the oil dispersal. The timing and course of the oil slick will be affected by regional weather conditions and the ever-changing state of the Gulf’s Loop Current—neither of which can be predicted more than a few days in advance. The dilution of the oil relative to the source will also be impacted by details such as bacterial degradation, which are not included in the simulations.
The model simulations show that a liquid released in the surface ocean at the spill site is likely to slowly spread as it is mixed by the ocean currents until it is entrained in the Loop Current. At that point, speeds pick up to about 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.
To read the entire UCAR news release, CLICK HERE.
Below is an animation showing one scenario of how oil released at the location of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico may move in the upper 65 feet of the ocean. This is not a forecast, but rather, it illustrates a likely dispersal pathway of the oil for roughly four months following the spill. It assumes oil spilling continuously from April 20 to June 20. The colors represent a dilution factor ranging from red (most concentrated) to beige (most diluted).