Oil flowing by Cape Cod this summer from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster could be a barely perceptible thin and intermittent film — or a toxic mass capable of killing wildlife in and out of the water. The concentration of oil along the eastern seaboard depends on how much oil is actually coming from the well in the first place, researchers at at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) tell the Phoenix Sun.
Earlier this month NCAR released a series of computer model animations suggesting that oil from the BP disaster may be on its way out of the Gulf of Mexico, up the eastern seaboard and, by sometime this summer, far out into the North Atlantic.
At the time, NCAR emphasized that the series, which tracks oil concentration, is not a forecast, but a “likely” pathway based on average weather and currents.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘Will the oil reach Florida?’” says NCAR scientist Synte Peacock. “Actually, our best knowledge says the scope of this environmental disaster is likely to reach far beyond Florida, with impacts that have yet to be understood.”
But the model used what turns out to be a conservative baseline in estimating the oil flow — only about half the daily flow rate federal officials now consider the upper estimate of oil spewing into the Gulf.
“The actual amount of oil that gets anywhere,” said Peacock in an email, “will depend critically on knowing the concentration of oil at the spill site.”
Official oil flow rate keeps rising
The official daily flow rate has increased from its initial level of 1,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd), to 5,000 bpd, to 19,000 bpd and, most recently, to 40,000 bpd. That number is certain to change, too. It is is based on data obtained before the riser was cut — an operation that many experts believe increased the flow by approximately 20 percent.
All six computer animations are on the NCAR website.