Gulf oil spill reaches Loop Current, heading to Florida
Oil is likely to reach the Florida coast within six days.
Wed, May 19, 2010 at 09:56 AM
SPREADING PROBLEM: Sen. Bill Nelson discusses a map that shows the track of the oil spill in the Loop Current. The current could potentially carry the oil spill around the coast of Florida. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has entered the Loop Current, a powerful conveyor belt that flows clockwise around the Gulf toward Florida, the European Space Agency said Wednesday.
Scientists monitoring the massive slick via ESA satellites say that oil has for the first time hit the current and is likely to reach Florida within six days.
"We have visible proof that at least oil from the surface of the water has reached the current," said Bertrand Chapron, a scientist at the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea.
A satellite image from May 18 shows a long tendril of the spill extending down into the Loop Current, which will drag it south towards coral reefs in the Florida Keys.
"It is likely to reach Florida within six days," Chapron said.
Using several European satellites, European scientists have tracked the spill's progress across the surface of the Gulf over the last two weeks, monitoring the proximity of the oil to the current.
But once it enters the deep and intense Loop Current, they warned, turbulent waters will accelerate the mixing of oil and water.
"This might remove the oil film on the surface and prevent us from tracking it with satellites, but the pollution is likely to affect the coral reef marine ecosystem," said Fabrice Collard of CLS, a subsidiary of France's National Centre for Space Studies.
The Loop Current joins the Gulf Stream, the northern hemisphere's most important ocean current system.
This has sparked fears that the oil could enter this system and be carried up the US East Coast.
Earlier, the chief of the U.S. agency monitoring the spill warned that the "unprecedented and dynamic" slick was on course to sweep along Florida's coastline.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco told reporters the oil was "increasingly likely" to reach the powerful Gulf current that would carry it to the Florida Keys and perhaps even beyond.
Crude oil began to flow into the Gulf after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon off-shore drilling rig sank on April 22, two days after an explosion that killed 11 workers.
BP estimates that some 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, of crude is spewing each day from rig, but independent experts warn the flow rate could be at least 10 times as much.
Copyright 2010 AFP American Edition