Gulf of Mexico oil spill23-mile long oil plume approaches Florida's Treasure Coast
Scientists say that the most likely pathway for oil to reach the Florida Keys was for it to be pulled into a counterclockwise rotating frontal eddy in the northeast corner of the Loop Current, and then south along the eastern frontal zone of the Loop Current to the Dry Tortugas; a scientific research vessel finds an extensive oil slick that stretched about twenty miles along the southward flowing jet which merged with the northern front of the Loop Current
A team of dedicated South Florida researchers from the University of Miami’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (NOAA/AOML) returning from the Gulf were determined to check on whether oil was, as predicted, being pulled into the Loop Current and carried toward the Dry Tortugas.
The University of Miami’s 96-foot catamaran the RV/F.G. Walton Smith had just completed a two-week National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored cruise sampling the deep submerged plumes near the Deepwater Horizon well site. NOAA/AOML offered to pay for a few additional days, but the ship which is part of the University National Laboratory System, had to return to Miami on its tight schedule. The best they could do was extend the trip home by eighteen hours.
Using funding provided through CIMAS, a team was rapidly assembled that included UM and CIMAS oceanographers Tom Lee and Nelson Melo, as well as a group of scientists led by Michelle Wood, director of the NOAA/AOML’s Ocean Chemistry Division. A sampling plan was pulled together using particle trajectories calculated by the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science’s Coastal Shelf Modeling Group, in combination with information provided by Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecast Service (ROFFS) and remotely sensed images from UM’s Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing (CSTARS). Using these sophisticated tools, the team decided that the most likely pathway for oil to reach the Florida Keys was for it to be pulled into a counterclockwise rotating frontal eddy in the northeast corner of the Loop Current, and then south along the eastern frontal zone of the Loop Current to the Dry Tortugas.
They set out, borrowing surveying equipment from NSF scientists who were leaving the ship, including geological oceanographer Vernon Asper of the University of Southern Mississippi and Samantha Joye from the University of Georgia. As they traveled into the eddy field they saw areas of sheen, but no tar balls.
Changing course to the south, however they found an area of strong flow convergence within a southward flowing jet that resulted from flow being pulled into the eddy. Knowing that this was just the type of oceanographic feature that would concentrate any floating material, including oil, they followed it. At about the same time a U.S. Coast Guard flight that had been sent to visually survey the area spotted what they thought could be