Gulf of Mexico oil spill in the Loop Current

May 19, 2010
In this Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) image, acquired on 18 May 2010, advanced processing methods have been performed to display ocean surface roughness variations and Doppler-derived ocean surface radial velocities around the oil spill area in the Gulf of Mexico. A long tendril of the oil spill (outlined in white) is visible extending down into the Loop Current (red arrow). Credits: CLS

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists monitoring the US oil spill with ESA's Envisat radar satellite say that it has entered the Loop Current, a powerful conveyor belt that flows clockwise around the Gulf of Mexico towards Florida.

"With these images from space, we have visible proof that at least oil from the surface of the water has reached the current," said Dr Bertrand Chapron of Ifremer, the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea.

Dr Chapron and Dr Fabrice Collard of France's CLS have been combining surface roughness and current flow information with Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) data of the area to monitor the proximity of the oil to the current.

In the ASAR image above, acquired on 18 May, a long tendril of the oil spill (outlined in white) extends down into the Loop Current (red arrow).

"We performed advanced processing on the images to display surface features like variations in roughness and velocity, which provides insight into the structure of the spill and its transport by surface currents," Dr Collard explained.

From the ASAR images of 12 May and 15 May, the oil spill was observed stretching increasingly closer to the Loop Current, raising concerns that it could reach the current and be carried south towards in the Florida Keys.

"Now that oil has entered the Loop Current, it is likely to reach Florida within six days," Dr Chapron said. "Since , ERS-2 and other SAR satellites images are systematically planned over the area, we will monitor the situation continuously."

The scientists warn however that since the Loop Current is a very intense, current, its turbulent waters will accelerate the mixing of the oil and water in the coming days.

"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," Dr Collard said.

Combined efforts using satellite imagery and in-situ measurements of collected water samples will help to assess whether oil is in the deep waters of the ocean.

The joins the Gulf Stream — the northern hemisphere's most important ocean-current system — sparking fears that oil could enter this system and be carried up to the US East Coast.

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otto1923
1 / 5 (1) May 19, 2010
Some Informed Opinions on sealing the leak, from the NY Times:
http://dotearth.b...;emc=rss
-note the mech eng prof from U of T;

"Seafloor nuclear detonation is starting to sound surprisingly feasible and appropriate... I never thought I would hear myself write that out loud."
Foundation
5 / 5 (5) May 19, 2010
Did you read any of the other opinions on that site? Only that assistant professor shares your view.

I'm not saying it wouldn't work if you use a warhead with a high enough yield, but there would be too many downsides, both environmental and political.
I imagine that if the president authorized the use of a nuke his popularity would plummet in the US as well as the rest of the world. Most people already oppose nuclear energy, and that has only a fraction of the downsides.

You said it wouldn't create a tidal wave. Well we still can't predict tidal waves with 100% certainty. They'd HAVE to evacuate the coastline, just to be sure. Because honestly, nobody wants to risk (no matter how small the risk) having thousands of American civilians killed due to their nuclear blast. Imagine the political backlash ...
magpies
1 / 5 (1) May 19, 2010
Are you joking nukes arnt that powerful...
yyz
5 / 5 (1) May 19, 2010
What I'm not seeing are (gu)estimates of how much *subsurface* oil is getting into the Loop Current. Tarballs (of unknown origin) were reported to have been found in the Florida Keys on Tuesday. News reports said the 'tarballs' were consistent with oil that had been weathered and tests were underway to determine if these were in fact related to the leak. The article mentions "...scientists warn however that since the Loop Current is a very intense, deep ocean current, its turbulent waters will accelerate the mixing of the oil and water in the coming days".

I'm worried that the surface slick is only part of the story.
otto1923
1 / 5 (3) May 19, 2010
I'm not saying it wouldn't work if you use a warhead with a high enough yield, but there would be too many downsides, both environmental and political.
Maybe not.
I imagine that if the president authorized the use of a nuke his popularity would plummet in the US as well as the rest of the world.
Maybe not. Depends on the Spin.
Most people already oppose nuclear energy, and that has only a fraction of the downsides.
Well THATS not true. Where you been, 1973?
You said it wouldn't create a tidal wave. Well we still can't predict tidal waves with 100% certainty. They'd HAVE to evacuate the coastline, just to be sure.
Maybe not.
Because honestly, nobody wants to risk (no matter how small the risk) having thousands of American civilians killed due to their nuclear blast. Imagine the political backlash ...
I think its worth the risk. Besides, everybodys going to be focussed on the coming war between Arizona and California.
otto1923
1 / 5 (2) May 19, 2010
Did you read any of the other opinions on that site? Only that assistant professor shares your view.
Right... on THAT site. (Not around here, thats for sure) I think the NY Times and other media are being coy about this... we'll hear more.
DickWilhelm
5 / 5 (4) May 19, 2010
That is a whole lot of maybe's being passed for answers there otto. I think the real limiting factor on fusing the tunnel with a contained blast is the planning required to do it correctly. A new well is, hopefully, a few months away and I doubt you could get the military, congress, and the president on board because that is what it would require.
As severe as the oil spill will get it would be nothing in comparison to a rushed and botched nuke attempt. If BP had created unrestrained flow from the oil pocket to the surface them possibly I might consider it as an option. Too many downsides to the whole issue. Unfortunately with BP's refusal to cooperate with scientists nobody outside their circle can verify or even understand the situation.

Looking forward to tracking the oil up the East Coast! /s
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) May 19, 2010
And we might also consider what happens if it DOESNT work. Do we suddenly have a hole 3 miles wide? The ground underneath is brittle (or else there wouldn't be oil there) - what are the chances of creating many more fissures? Earthquakes?

I think the nuke scenario should not be considered because IF it fails then there are no more options. All engineering options (domes, tents, etc. ) will become impossible after the nuke.
Yellowdart
5 / 5 (1) May 20, 2010
yyz,

I dont think they know. I imagine all they are reading is the surface sheen as they discuss the possibility of losing it due to the mixing. Subsurface is most likely dissolved and I dont see how you would be able to detect its velocity or roughness subsurface and dissolved with a satellite. Youd have to sample.

Fox and I think MSN both have pictures of the La coast today showing the free product (not sheen) at the surface that just arrived a day ago or so.

Faster/turbulent mixing might actually be better for attenuation. The question becomes is how close will the gulf stream pass it along the US east coastline.
otto1923
1 / 5 (1) May 20, 2010
As severe as the oil spill will get it would be nothing in comparison to a rushed and botched nuke attempt.
I'm thinking this possibility has already been explored in a think-tank somewhere, and the appropriate equipment fabricated and standing by. Plans would have to be made for the specific site and geology, but as this sort of accident could well be a matter of national security due to the possibility of terrorism, economic disruption, or effects to foreign shorelines, somebody somewhere has already explored this and offered a nuclear solution. The soviets did.
http://www.livesc...512.html
otto1923
1 / 5 (1) May 20, 2010
And we might also consider what happens if it DOESNT work. Do we suddenly have a hole 3 miles wide? The ground underneath is brittle (or else there wouldn't be oil there) - what are the chances of creating many more fissures? Earthquakes?
You make it sound as if experts charged with exploring this alternative wouldn't have thought of these things and factored them into a suitable solution, which I'm sure is the case. The world has a significant database from decades of nuclear testing and 1000s of shots by many countries in all sorts of environments.
yyz
5 / 5 (1) May 20, 2010
@Yellowdart,

Yeah, I concur. They don't know what's going on subsurface. I guess I was lamenting that it's impossible to get a handle on that part of the plume without directly going out and collecting samples at depth. I see that our governor has extended the watch zone down Florida's west coast, through the Keys, and up part of the Atlantic coast. Watchful monitoring for now.

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