Posted by: reefrescue | May 4, 2010

Oil headed to Palm Beach?

Is Palm Beach County prepared?

Scientists: Oil slick almost certain to ride current to Palm Beach within weeks

By Adam Playford

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Updated: 6:39 a.m. Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Posted: 7:22 p.m. Monday, May 3, 2010

Concern intensified Monday that the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico could enter the Gulf Stream, dragging oil through the Florida Keys and up the state’s Atlantic coast to Palm Beach County.

The big question is when — not if — the slick heads our way, scientists who study the flow of the water say.

“I think it’s inevitable that it will happen, if they can’t cap this well off soon,” said Robert Weisberg, a physical oceanographer and University of South Florida professor who has been tracking the spill.

Oil has been spewing into the Gulf of Mexico for two weeks, ever since a rig exploded, sending officials scrambling to protect the Gulf’s shores and the Panhandle.

The thought of that oil winding its way to the Atlantic is counter-intuitive. But the Gulf Loop – the portion of the Gulf Stream system that dominates currents in the Gulf of Mexico – is a powerful force. It flips and flops around throughout the year, yanking warm water from the Tropics into the Atlantic “like a conveyer belt,” said Nick Shay, a professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami.

In one experiment, a buoy dropped in the Gulf made its way via the Loop to the St. Lucie Inlet, recalled George Maul, the head of the Department of Marine Environmental Systems at the Florida Institute of Technology. Another buoy shot straight to Jacksonville.

If the oil and the loop converge – or, as the scientists say, if the oil is “entrained” in the Loop – the oil could follow the same path, ending up in the Lake Worth Lagoon, or anywhere else the current flows.

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