Florida Keys News
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
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Other experts say oil 'pretty unlikely' to hit Keys

Some scientists say the Loop Current is a moving target, one that will dodge the bullet of having oil trapped in it -- thanks also in part to weak winds and a weak feeder eddy.

The core of the Loop Current was 150 miles from the oil slick Tuesday and has begun to move south, as it does seasonally, one computer model shows.

It will be 200 to 300 miles away from the slick's location on Tuesday within the next five days, according to Eric Chassignet, director of the Center for Ocean Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University.

That makes the possibility of the slick reaching the Loop Current and bringing oil south along the Florida Coast to the Florida Keys, Florida Bay and Dry Tortugas "pretty unlikely," Chassignet said.

His prediction comes from a tried-and-true model that his agency, the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been using for the past five years, he said, adding that he is "confident" of its accuracy.

The possibility of wind blowing the slick into the Loop Current was refuted Tuesday by Doug Helton, NOAA's incident operations coordinator from the oil rig accident. He said the winds have not been strong enough in one consistent direction to push the slick to one specific area.

Even if the wind did blow it into a counterclockwise-moving eddy that was 50 miles from slick on Tuesday, that feeder current isn't strong enough to push the oil into the main Loop Current, Chassignet said.

"If it (oil) is trapped in the eddy, not much will be captured by the main Loop Current," Chassignet said.

The immediate concern for environmental damage has been and remains on the offshore islands on the northern Gulf Coast and the wetlands and estuaries of the Mississippi Delta, Helton said.

tohara@keysnews.com

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