The oil from the BP leak could reach far beyond the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new computer model released Thursday that shows currents could carry some of the slick up the Atlantic coast.
The creators of the model, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said oil could reach the open Atlantic Ocean as early as this summer.
Watch the model animation below.
The model shows the Gulf of Mexico’s Loop Current carrying oil to Florida’s Atlantic Coast, where it could be carried north in the Gulf Stream as far as North Carolina, and then be pulled east out into the Atlantic.
Synte Peacock, an NCAR scientist who worked on the model, said it is nearly impossible to predict when the Loop Current will start picking up oil, but that once it does, oil could make it to the Atlantic within days.
“We can say with a high degree of likelihood that oil will get out to the Gulf Stream,” Peacock said. “What we can’t say is when.”
“We took all these possible scenarios of what the Loop currents would do,” Peacock said. “We wanted to see if there was any scenario that we could find that kept the oil in the Gulf and didn’t take it out in to the Atlantic, and what we found is that no matter what we did, it gets out.”
The model simulates how a liquid released at the spill site might be dispersed and circulated by currents, but is not able to factor in the density of oil. The group stresses this is a possible scenario and not a forecast because predicting the precise location and timing would be impossible. It is also unknown if the oil would be on the surface of the water, or mixed in below.
Peacock said until more is known about how much oil has leaked and how much more may be leaked in coming weeks, it will be impossible to predict the concentration of the oil as it spreads.