Researchers report six-inch oil pancakes, and hope that the early warning will help protect Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Dry Tortugas
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — A complex swirl of currents and eddies is carrying a previously unidentified plume of oil toward the Dry Tortugas, at the tip of the Florida Keys, according to researchers from the University of Miami.
The researchers hope the early warning will give response officials time to deploy equipment needed to protect the fragile marine resources of the area.
The University announced the findings Monday in a press release. fter a recent two-week mission sampling submerged oil plumes near the Deepwater Horizon well site, the university’s 96-foot catamaran, the RV/F.G. Walton Smith, set sail for the Dry Tortugas after calculating the potential trajectory of the oil based on computer models of currents, as well as aerial reports from Coast Guard planes. They found a 20-mile oil slick with pancake-size tar balls en route to the Dry Tortugas.
Entering the eddy field, the scientists aboard the boat found oil sheen but no tar balls. After heading farther south, 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 an oil slick in the area and contacted the scientists aboard the Walton Smith to have the ship get a closer look at the slick.
“As we approached, we found an extensive oil slick that stretched about 20 nautical miles along the southward flowing jet which merged with the northern front of the Loop Current. The slick was made up of tar balls shaped like pancakes that went from the size of a dime to about 6 inches in diameter,” said University of Miami Professor Emeritus Tom Lee. “The combination of models and satellite images, along with our shipboard observations … helped us to identify and study this previously unidentified oil plume located off Florida’s southwest coast and heading toward the Tortugas.”
“The good news is that the various approaches we are using to project its pathway seem to be yielding similar answers and guiding us properly,” said Peter Ortner, a University of Miami marine biology and fisheries professor. “We need to maintain our vigilance and expand our efforts to determine the degree of risk to unique downstream resources like the Dry Tortugas and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which are vital natural environments that we need to protect,” he added, explaining that the tracking should enable federal agencies to deploy response and restoration resources proactively.
Filed under: BP Gulf oil spill, Environment, Marine biology Tagged: | BP, Deepwater Horizon, energy, Environment, Florida Keys, Florida Keys National marine sanctuary, Gulf oil spill, oil approaching Florida Keys, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, University of Miami