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04 Jun 2010: Computer Model Suggests
Gulf Spill Could Reach Atlantic by Summer

A computer modeling study suggests that oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill could travel thousands of miles up the Atlantic coast and into the open ocean as early as this summer. Using a virtual dye tracer to project movement of the oil based on what is known about ocean currents and typical wind conditions, scientists at the Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) illustrated six possible dispersal paths. While the models are not a forecast, they suggest that the environmental impact of this spill could be greater than previously thought and “is likely to reach far beyond Florida,” according to one NCAR scientist. The greatest threat is if the oil enters the so-called loop current, which carries warm water in a clockwise pattern from the Yucatan Peninsula to the northern Gulf of Mexico and then south to the Florida Keys and the Atlantic Ocean. According to the computer simulations, once the oil reaches the fast-moving current, it is likely to spread to the Atlantic coast within weeks, and then move toward Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, before shifting east. The model does not estimate how much oil would reach any particular location, but rather how much of the total oil could be transported by ocean currents.

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