Satellite Images Show Oil Slick on the Move Towards Florida, Possibly East Coast of US


Confirming some of the worst fears about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, satellite images now show part of the oil slick has entered the Loop Current, a powerful conveyor belt-like current that flows clockwise around the Gulf of Mexico towards Florida. The Loop Current joins the Gulf Stream — the northern hemisphere’s most important ocean-current system — and the oil could enter this system and be carried up to the US East Coast.

Both NASA and ESA satellites have been returning daily satellite images of the oil spill.

“With these images from space, we have visible proof that at least oil from the surface of the water has reached the current,” said Dr Bertrand Chapron of Ifremer, the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea.

During the first weeks following the explosion at the oil rig, oil could be seen drifting from the site of the incident and it usually headed west and northwest to the Mississippi River Delta. But in the third week of May, currents drew some of the oil southeast. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the southward spread increased the chance that the oil would become mixed up with the Loop Current and spread to Florida or even the U.S. East Coast.

Graphic from Envisat data. Credits: CLS

In this Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) image, acquired on 18 May 2010, a long tendril of the oil spill (outlined in white) is visible extending down into the Loop Current (red arrow).

An infrared image from May 18, 2010 from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite.

The infrared image is annotated with the location of the leaking well and the approximate location of the southern arm of the oil slick on May 17 (based on natural-color MODIS imagery). Oil was very close to the Loop Current, whose warm waters appear in yellow near the bottom of the image. However, there is also an eddy of cooler water (purple) circulating counterclockwise at the top of the Loop Current. According to NOAA, “Some amount of any oil drawn into the Loop Current would likely remain in the eddy, heading to the northeast, and some would enter the main Loop Current, where it might eventually head to the Florida Strait.”

Image from MODIS on Aqua from May 18. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team.

This unusual natural color image taken on May 18, 2010 by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite shows sun glinting off the oil slick. The diagonal stripes result from the Sun’s reflection on the ocean surface, called sunglint. The sunglint accentuates the left-to-right scans that the satellite sensor makes as it passes over the Earth’s surface, and the stripes are perpendicular to the satellite’s path.

Besides hinting at the sensor’s scans, the sunglint also illuminates oil slicks on the sea surface. Bright oil slicks appear east and southeast of the delta.

NASA’s and ESA’s satellites will keep watch on this oil slick from above.

Sources: NASA Earth Observatory, (this page, and this page, too), ESA

6 Replies to “Satellite Images Show Oil Slick on the Move Towards Florida, Possibly East Coast of US”

  1. Drill baby DRILL!

    P.Obama has yet to refute his recent statements that we need to open Florida and the East Coast to off shore deep water oil drilling. Since his ‘handlers’ are heavily invested, he may not~ Where is the leadership on this one? Reminds me of P. Bush’s failure to redirect our energy concerns after 9/11!

    If I were he, I would:
    1) Declare a national emergency and mobilize every possible resource!
    2) Demand that congress allocate significant funding increases in alternative fuels.
    3) Reinvigorate oil drilling safety regulations.
    4) Adapt laws that punish severely any offenders of those regulations – I’m talking prison time for those responsible oil company executives.

  2. Ummm, in a few months, there will be a sale of once prime beach-front property on the Florida keys. A ‘mild’ hurricane slamming that area in the summer will give homeowners some free petroleum, but not where they want it-oh, well!!!!!!

  3. I don’t think that B.P. are primarily to blame here. It appears as though the owners are the real culprits.

  4. Nothing like a “worse nightmare” scenario to make life interesting on Planet Earth. If this oil rounds the bend in the Florida straits, the adverse environmental consequences may be beyond comprehension.

    I’m with Aqua. Punishment ought to be both criminal and civil. It’s time the large multi-national corps were held accountable for their irresponsible behavior and choices.

    Yes, it is time to explore alternative fuel options. Time for politicians to do the right thing rather than pandering to corporate lobbying interests.

  5. I’m verry concerned about this disaster.
    But it is too late to do anything about it!
    All that can be done now is minimize the damage, that will be a gidantic effort that may
    be to much for BP to handle! As for the political consequences, that too has reached the point of no return! It is oil, that made it possible to allow us to have personal computing devices and we can not live without plastic today! Stone age anyone?

Comments are closed.