Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 9:18AM
Scientists monitoring the Gulf Coast oil spill with ESA's Envisat radar satellite say that it has entered the Loop Current, a powerful conveyor belt that flows clockwise around the Gulf of Mexico toward Florida.
"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.
In the ASAR image above, acquired on May 18, a long tendril of the oil spill (outlined in white) extends down into the Loop Current (red arrow).
"Now that oil has entered the Loop Current, it is likely to reach Florida within six days," Chapron said. "Since Envisat, ERS-2 and other SAR satellites images are systematically planned over the area, we will monitor the situation continuously."
The scientists warn, however, that since the Loop Current is a very intense, deep ocean current, its turbulent waters will accelerate the mixing of the oil and water in the coming days.
"This might remove the oil film on the surface and prevent us from tracking it with satellites, but the pollution is likely to affect the coral reef marine ecosystem," Collard said.
The Loop Current joins the Gulf Stream — the northern hemisphere's most important ocean-current system — sparking fears that oil could enter this system and be carried up to the East Coast.