Oil spill: Do Key West tar balls mean oil is now in Gulf of Mexico’s Loop Current?

From www.wtsp.com

From NSt. Petersburg, Florida — There is no guarantee the tar balls that turned up Monday at the extreme western tip of Key West came from the massive BP oil spill.

But, if they are from the BP spill, it could be a sign one of Florida’s nightmares is coming true.

The blobs came ashore at the rate of about three an hour, all day long Monday. It was worst around high tide. The balls of tar in Key West ranged from three to eight inches across.

Scientists have said the flattened globs of tar are probably how oil from the BP spill would look if it washed up in Florida.

However, the Coast Guard in Key West says it’s not equipped to tell for sure where the balls originated. Samples have been sent to a lab for testing.

In the same way that different brands of bottled water have slightly different tastes because of trace chemicals, oil has different chemical markers depending on where it came out of the earth.

Testing will reveal whether the Key West tar balls came from the site of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig, or from another source such as illegal oil dumped from a ship or natural sites in the seafloor where oil seeps up from underground.

Meanwhile, scientists are debating what these small blobs mean for the the big picture.

“Some of the trajectory models are actually showing that the oil will begin to make a move over the next couple of days,” said the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pablo Santos.

“If that were to happen, then we could potentially be seeing effects somewhere in south Florida in a week or beyond a week. Doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Just a possibility.”

The U.S. Coast Guard also says the oil’s not headed to Florida in a major way — yet.

But, our local folks disagree.

Just back from an expedition to study the spill, oceanographers from the University of South Florida say a dire forecast for our state is becoming reality.

USF’s computer models show the oil spill has now gotten sucked into the Loop Current. That underwater conveyor belt is likely to carry spilled oil near or through the Florida Keys, then north along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

It appears the Tampa Bay area is in the clear for the foreseeable future. But how much oil will wash ashore in the next several weeks elsewhere in Florida? The researchers with USF’s Marine Science program say that is still much too hard to predict.