As the BP taskforce endeavors to contain the oil spill caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, a perceived threat to the Florida Keys appears, for now, to have lessened.
A research ship from the University of South Florida will assess the damage first hand by taking water samples from the area over the next few days but for now the results are not expected to show serious contamination.
Despite recent NASA images showing that oil had reached the Florida Loop – a current which heads around Florida into the Atlantic Ocean and connects with the Gulf Stream, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by the time any of that oil has traveled its volume will have reduced significantly The most likely apparition will be tar balls washed ashore, although the Florida Coastguard said that those recently found in Key West were not from the same slick.
“The Joint Information Center (JIC) issued a press release stating that NOAA’s latest observations indicate that a small portion of the oil slick has reached the Loop Current in the form of light to very light sheens. NOAA Scientific Support Coordinator Charles Henry answered press questions on loop current. He noted that in the time it would take for oil to travel to the vicinity of the Florida Straits, any oil would be highly weathered and both the natural process of evaporation and the application of chemical dispersants would reduce the oil volume significantly”.
This USA Today interactive map shows how the oil slick has traveled sofar and maps its location in relation to both the Louisiana shoreline and the Florida Loop current.
This will come as cold comfort to those in Louisiana where heavy oil has reached the shore and invaded marshlands which provide an important nursery habitat for Gulf wildlife . Despite some favorable weather conditions in recent days which have enabled controlled burns and significant collection of oil/water mix, there is still significant containment work to be done before the cleanup operation can even begin. This could include the National Guard being deployed to build sand booms around the area of the Mississippi Estuary to prevent further encroachment.
NOAA continues to provide daily forecasts like this one using surface current data, satellite imagery and flyover observations.
BP will attempt the ‘Top Kill’ process next week. This involves firing waste products such as tires and golf balls into the broken pipe to block it, followed by large amounts of heavy drilling fluid and cement to seal it off. This was successfully used on sabotaged wells during the first Gulf War but has never been attempted in deep water.