Loop current is now drawing the BP oil disaster to Florida Keys

Toxicologist: “We could be getting to the point that puts coral over the edge”; Masters: “a major ecological disaster … cannot be ruled out.”

UPDATE:  CNN reports that NOAA “has shut down fishing in 19 percent of the Gulf over which the federal government has jurisdiction,” 45,728 square miles.


On May 6 I wrote, “the dispersant-laced oil spill may soon be entrained in the Loop Current, which is part of the Gulf Stream, sweeping it toward the Florida Keys, home to America’s biggest coral reef” (see “Out of Sight: BP’s dispersants are toxic “” but not as toxic as dispersed oil“).

Now that worst-case scenario has played out.  And as meteorologist Jeff Masters explains:

The latest surface current forecasts from NOAA’s HYCOM model show that oil could continue pouring into the Loop Current for most of the rest of the week. It is highly uncertain how diluted the oil might get on its voyage to northwestern Cuba and the Florida Keys this week, but the possibility for a major ecological disaster in the fragile Keys ecosystem cannot be ruled out.

For my earlier post, I spoke to toxicologist Carys Mitchelmore, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, an expert on the impact of dispersants and dispersed oil on marine life.

She is particularly concerned about corals because they are “under siege from multiple sources, including human sewage, metal pollution, and of course they are dealing with issues from global climate change including warming and ocean acidification.”  See for instance, “Nature Geoscience study: Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred.”

“We could be getting to the point that puts coral over the edge,” in terms of its long-term survival, she warned.

Brad Johnson has more:

Jeff Hoffmeyer, a marine scientist with the University of Southern Mississippi Center for Fisheries Research and Development, told the Wonk Room two weeks ago of the frightening consequences of the slick getting caught in the Loop Current:

“If it gets entrained into the Loop [Current], it’s up into the Atlantic. And who knows where it’s going to go from there. As it moves around Florida, the next or another critical area would be the Florida Keys and the coral reefs we have down there. I don’t even want to think about that area being covered in oil. Once it works its way up the East Coast and potentially crossing the Atlantic, it could be far-reaching.”

Over 625,000 gallons of toxic dispersants have been sprayed on the oil slick, including 45,000 gallons of dispersants injected directly at the wellhead “” creating an invisible toxic cloud of unknown size a mile below the sea surface.

Update: Tar balls have washed up on Key West beaches. If they are from the leading edge of the oil gusher, that would mean that some oil already has been entrained in the Loop Current for several days.
Key West tar ball

20 Responses to Loop current is now drawing the BP oil disaster to Florida Keys

  1. Leif says:

    I would think that it is about time that water quality stations were deployed in strategic places around the Key West current path.

  2. Robert Brulle says:

    What about the underwater currents and the newly discovered plumes of oil? Are they also entrained in the loop current? Will this pull the underwater plumes over the shallow waters of the Keys?

    We are apparently in unknown territory with this oil spill. No one seems to know what the fate and effects of the underwater oil plumes are going to be, except that they are probably going to be bad.

  3. David Smith says:

    Are federal investigators, scientists etc in the area and accessing the blow-out? It seems as though outsiders (of the industry and company) are not being let in, leaving the perpetrators in full control of the crime scene, to do what ever they please with the evidence. Once they shut down and clean the drilling area a tremendous amount of forensic data will be disappeared. We wont even be able to determine the size of the problem, never mind what actually happenned.

    From what I here from the media, this seems to be the case.

    If this is true, why?

  4. Andy says:

    Oil mixed with sea grass leaves and mangrove seed pods. Mmmmmmmm. Looks yummy. Definitely a Florida Bay concoction. It’ll be interesting to see what the source of the oil was.

  5. BP is not the owner of the Gulf of Mexico! Where are the governments? Where are our scientists? It is almost a month since this spill began and I do not hear about water samples, and fish or mollusk examinations. Why isn’t the U.S. Government taking charge? Doesn’t the Navy have underwater capabilities? How much oil has actually been leaked into the Gulf? Do we have a chemical analysis of this particular oil? Why haven’t all the world’s oil companies come to help BP?

    There is a scandalous lack of responsibility and scientific evaluation on display in this disaster.

  6. Pierre C says:

    The industry told us that offshore drilling was safe. As fossil fuel reserves decrease, there will only be more pressure to drill offshore. Cap-and-trade is not going to change that. We need to look at more fundamental strategies for the environment, ones that aims at the economic system itself.

    For example, see:
    A Structural Strategy for Global Warming, Resource Conservation, Toxic Contaminants, and the Environment

    Link to individual aspects of the strategy:
    Global Warming, GHG & Carbon Emission Reduction–Toxic Chemicals & Contaminants–Renewable Energy & Resource Management–Green Packaging, Recycling Markets, & Reuse–Non-Renewable Resources–Green Transportation: Hybrid, Electric, and Hydrogen Vehicles–Population Growth

  7. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    BP has plainly failed to control the well’s output despite several attempts – and has now been reduced to spending time on the latest PR stunt of piping a mere 1,000 barrels/day to a barge.

    Its incompetence to develop effective countermeasures is very obvious.
    So when will government order them off and commit its own far greater resources to capping the well ?

    This surely is the necessary next step ?



  8. Vincent Mancuso says:

    A possible fix for this extreme disaster, would be to try devise the use of a giant umbrella, made from a oil-resistant material. Affix it to the sea bed with some heavy weights, sort of like a parachute would be rigged. Have an umbilical at the appex of the dome to the surface pumping the oil to tankers standing by, until a permanent fix could be accomplished. Or pipe it to the mainland. Seeing how oil floats, I believe that the oil would be contained under the umbrella and reduce and or contain a major amount of the leak. This may or may not be effected by currents, but, I believe it to be a liable solution.

  9. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    A friend makes documentaries. She and her crew were arrested when they tried to make a film (from shore) of the area. They were not trespassing, they were standing on the shoulder of a public roadway. They make science films for various venues, they’re certainly not terrorists.

    I had to go through a body scanner to enter my county courthouse in Colorado to register a new (to me) car.

    Dude, what happened to my country?

  10. catman306 says:

    I was thinking that some entrepreneur on the Gulf would soon be selling old water bottles full of sea water and the fossil fuel gusher slick that washed up near the seashore. I thought he could sell this Gulf Oil Slick on the internet to anyone in the world who wanted a share of the disaster. Further reflection raised fears that neither the US Postal Service nor UPS, or FEDEX would allow the shipping of toxic waste. Oh well.

    Wouldn’t it be great to mail a few liters to the BP, Halliburton, and TransOceanic corporate offices? What if millions did it?

  11. Dorothy says:

    I clicked on Joe’s link to “Tar balls have washed up on Key West beaches,” and the short article in the Palm Beach paper was interesting. Even more interesting, however, were the many comments, some from people up the eastern seaboard, as far north as Long Island and Canada, all profoundly worried and angered that their shorelines may be impacted by the BP spill. Not a denier among any of them.

    Some comments – including one from “hugo chavez” – suggest nationalization of companies that drill for oil offshore. This is worth considering, I think. After all, these are US waters, US wildlife and fisheries, US jobs and livelihood – but BP isn’t even going to sell most of the oil here, I’ve read.

    But they’re happy. They’re retrieving 40% of the oil now, and that’s really all they care about anyway.

  12. Karen S. says:

    I too have been thinking about the number of comments, the worry, the sense of futility and frustration at the overwhelming tragedy unfolding before our eyes. There’s a palpable sense of mourning and regret about the oceans, about the entire future if nothing ever changes.

    Do all the individual comments on hundreds of social media sites make any difference? I’ve written letters to editors (two are published today), have changed to fluorescent bulbs, I recycle, don’t own a television, don’t drive when I can walk or bike, consume less, buy local, try to live more lightly on the planet, all the good stuff. Is it making a difference? I know others are doing the same, but sometimes I wonder if three hundred million of us will ever be able to change, or to make enough noise in this corporate-owned world to make them listen. It goes ricocheting between searing anger and deep despair, and, once in awhile, a glimmer of hope.

    If you haven’t heard this song yet, called “Words of Charlie Darwin” by The Low Anthem, it kind of says it all:

  13. Mike says:

    I’m not a denier, far from it, but: The tarballs illustrated are not from the current disaster. They are much older. It takes many months if not years for oil globs to turn into solids. Material from the current “spill” will be liquid or semiliquid when it washes up.

  14. GFW says:

    Mike’s probably right. The corollary is that this spill, given the huge quantity of oil injected at various depths in the water column, will be producing mysterious slicks and tarballs for years if not decades over a wide region.

  15. Relax everybody: BP CEO Hayward tells FOXnews: environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest (via @ocean_news). I kinda like low-impact disasters!

  16. Christopher says:


    Does this loop current pass anywhere near Limbaugh’s mansion? A few thousand tarballs to keep Rush company might be the only redeeming virtue of this mess.

  17. Andy says:

    Mike: tar balls can form rather quickly. These are flattened which = gooey which = fairly fresh. Remember that this spill is now about 1 month old. Tar balls that have been pegged to the spill have already washed up in Louisiana. We’ll see what the feds say in a couple of days.

  18. Darren says:

    As the whole world looks on helplessly to the BP oil disaster I really cannot believe how these irresposible criminals BP were even allowed to construct and operate an oil rig with out even an emergency concept prior to operating. Why Have BPs Health & Safety team been allowed to avoid assessments and procedures In the event of such a disaster happening!?? 4 weeks down the line and BP have still not resolved this major long term Toxic Pollution.

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