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May 9, 2010

SECOORA Members Contribute to Understanding the Potential impacts of the Oil Spill in the Gulf

An ongoing oil spill caused by last week's explosion and sinking of the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon is top news throughout the United States.  SECOORA members are  contributing their resources and expertise to understanding the impacts and movement of the spill and are being tapped by the media for their expert opinions on the impacts of this event.  Below you will find a brief synopsis of our member contributions.  We  will develop more in depth information on the  value of SECOORA members' ocean observing technologies in tracking and aiding in responding to this incident as time progresses.  Please notify SECOORA's Communications Specialist, Megan Treml ( of any other ongoing member efforts utilizing observing technologies and expertise so we can be sure they are included in future communications regarding this incident.  Also, please email the following if you have been interviewed: articles, links, and particulars (when, who, what) of the media interviews.
Chuanmin Hu, from University of South Florida has set up a temporary website to facilitate visualization of the geographic extent and movement of the spill through an image archive of 250-m resolution MODIS satellite images.  These show the location and size of the oil spill on the ocean surface, and use Google Earth to provide a geographic context.  The near real-time images have been provided to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to coordinate with members of the oil spill response team. The images have also been used by the USF Ocean Circulation Group, Roffer's Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service, Inc., as well as the local public news media to monitor and predict the oil spill trajectories.
April 27, 2010 18:40 GMT MODIS Image from USF
George Maul, head of the Department of Marine and Environmental Systems (DMES) at Florida Institute of Technology has been interviewed on three television stations, and has contributed to numerous newspaper articles.
 "All depends on how quickly and how good a job they do of cleaning the oil up," said George Maul, who heads the department of marine and environmental systems at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. "And despite the clean-up effort, we have to remember that the oil sinks. So it is not only on the surface."
From Experts: Oil spill could affect Space Coast: Marine life, beaches in jeopardy if oil reaches East Coast, By Kaustuv Basu · FLORIDA TODAY · April 28, 2010
Mitchell A. Roffer, of ROFFER'S OCEAN FISHING FORECASTING SERVICE, INC., (ROFFS™) is sending out alerts to numerous  people including legislators, emergency managers, and the fishing community to keep them abreast of the changing nature of the spill and how it might impact their fishing or traveling to fishing grounds. They are working with their other colleagues from ocean observing on this effort. ROFFS™ has been interviewed by several newspapers and magazines for their continued monitoring of the ocean conditions related to the oil spill. This and work by colleagues from University of South Florida clearly shows the importance of ocean observations from satellites and modeling by ocean observing colleagues.
View the latest alert and maps from ROFFER'S OCEAN FISHING FORECASTING SERVICE, INC.
ROFFS(TM) Oceanograpic Analysis of Oil Spill April 28, 2010
Lynn K. (Nick) Shay,  Professor of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science,  is utilizing sea surface height data from satellite altimetry to estimate the background currents in the Gulf of Mexico as well as the isotherm depths from a crude two-layer reduced gravity model. While the general approach was developed for monitoring isotherm depths and upper ocean heat content aimed at improving hurricane intensity forecasts at the National Centers, these data products are useful in understanding the position and strength of current  features such as the Loop Current including the shedding of warm core eddies. Understanding the movements of this strong current system and its eddy system not only impacts the Gulf of Mexico states but provides an important oceanic pathway via the Florida Straits to the eastern seaboard of the United States as it feeds the Gulf Stream that includes both the SECOORA and MACOORA domains.
Dr. Shay has been contacted by the media (Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, and Fox News) for his viewpoint on the possible impacts if the oil slick moves more southeastward into the central Gulf:  He noted, " If the slick moves further south and east in response to the surface winds, there is a possibility that some of the slick could be affected by the small cyclones that surround the northern boundary of the Loop Current. In that scenario, the Loop Current, which rotates clockwise could potentially transport the oil slick  southward and through the Florida Straits eventually affecting beaches along the southeast. We have seen this general pattern before in that nutrients, red tides, toxins are transported by these current systems. Depending on the strength of the currents, the time scales can be a up to a couple of weeks to make it through the straits."
In the interview with Fox news, Shay noted that "this is why we need a viable coastal ocean observing system that has already been developed for NOAA IOOS. The HF radar systems would be very useful for such purposes in understanding the potential pathways for oil slicks and toxins as well as improve storm surge models during hurricanes".
Visit the web site at RSMAS at:
For more information on the image below:
Geostrophic currents (arrows) from a blended field of surface height anomalies plus the mean surface height (cm: color) from RIO5 for 28 April for the Gulf of Mexico. The field is updated each day with new tracks of altimetry data from Jason-1, 2, GFO and Envisat altimetry missions. Notice the prominence of the Loop Current in these data products.
Bob Weisberg, Director of the University of South Florida Ocean Circulation Group, is modeling the event.  He works with two models.  One is the West Florida Shelf  Nowcast/Forecast model that nests ROMS in HYCOM.  The second is HYCOM by itself.  Multiple model simulations are important because all models have errors.  Weisberg and Hu are collaborating on spill position in that as they become available the satellite images are being used to reinitialize the model forecasts. All model forecasts are and will be updated daily.  Also of great relevance is the "geostrophic drifter" movie on the USF Ocean Circulation Group web site because this provides the latest on Loop Current-Florida Current-Gulf Stream pathways, which can affect the entire SECOORA region if and when oil gets entrained in the Loop Current.   
Dr. Weisberg has also been contacted by the media for his opinion on the timing of this spill reaching the coast with respect to the advice for the public on canceling their summer vacations.  He noted, "If the industry is able to stem the flow of oil then perhaps a cleanup can proceed without major consequence.  If not, then it is anyone's guess, and you may even find oil offshore of SC, carried by the Gulf Stream, for once oil gets entrained in the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current, which feeds the Gulf Stream, it is only a short time before it may get to the latitude of SC."
Visit the Ocean Circulation Group of South Florida's College of Marine Science Web site to view their modeling efforts.
Hindcast/forecast for 5/2 using 3-hourly USF WFS model results to estimate trajectories emanating from the spill site by releasing new particles every 3 hrs starting from a 04/27 sat. imagery spill initialization.
Image from