With speculation about the path of the Gulf oil running rampant, the SEANET blogger would like to steer you to a very good resource on the matter. NOAA offers daily oil spill trajectory maps which project where the oil is likely to spread within the next 24, 48 and 72 hours. The maps utilize mathematical models of currents and surface winds as well as first hand reports of the oil’s movement from pilots conducting fly-overs of the Gulf. The maps show how thick the oil is on the water’s surface, as well as areas where it is anticipated to make landfall during the projected timeframe. The NOAA site also has a number of other excellent resources on what they call the “Mississippi Canyon 252” event.
The big worry at present is that the oil might get caught up in the Gulf’s Loop Current, depositing the crude in the Florida Keys. Worse still, the oil could then be swept into the Gulf Stream and travel up the east coast potentially affecting the shoreline up to Virginia. Experts report that even in that worst-case scenario, the damage to east coast marine life would be mitigated as the oil weathers, breaks down, and forms discrete masses called tarballs rather than outright slicks.
Whether or not the oil does make it into the Gulf Stream, it is now feared that massive dead zones will form in the Gulf as marine organisms are killed by the ever worsening spill. Small numbers of oiled seabirds and other animals continue to be retrieved dead and alive on the Gulf coast, but the full impact of the spill offshore has been maddeningly difficult to ascertain. NOAA is also in the early stages of a Natural Resources Damage Assessment, in which they collect data on what species were present in the spill zone before the event, how many individuals of those species were using the habitat, and various other data on life before the spill. SEANET has already contributed to that effort, offering our Florida data to help flesh out a picture of what live and dead birds “normally” turn up in Florida.
SEANET has darkly observed that our relevance as an organization is largely dismissed until a catastrophe like this. In its less grim moments, SEANET only wishes to help the recovery efforts in any way it can. We also hope this will be the impetus to expand our efforts into the Gulf beyond Florida. We’re trying to find some bright side to this, Seanetters. It isn’t easy.