May 18, 2010 -- Information being widely reported about oil having entered the 'loop current' was premature and taken out of context, said NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco earlier today in a press conference.
The loop current is an area of warm water that comes up from the Caribbean into the Gulf of Mexico. It curves east then south, runs between Florida and Cube, and then becomes the Florida current. From there it travels up the east coast.
According to Dr. Lubchenco, the dynamic and changing current is being closely monitored by aircraft and satellite imagery. At the present time, she said, the main bulk of the oil slick is dozens of miles away from the loop current.
Dr. Lubchenco did acknowledge, however, that a tendril of light oil has drifted between an area of the loop current and an eddy to the north. She indicated that it's likely some portion of the tendril will become entrained in the loop current but that, at this time, it does not appear to have done so.
If it does become entrained in the loop current, it would likely travel around Florida in the next 8 to 10 days. Dr. Lubchenco explained that the make-up of the oil would likely change in transit, manifesting as emulsified streamers or tarballs. The farther it moves along, she said, the more weathered and dilute it will become.
Some tarballs have already been collected in the Florida Keys, but it has not been confirmed that they are related to the BP oil spill. Samples are en route to a testing lab in Connecticut for analysis.
NOAA is continuing to monitor the loop current as well as the tendril of oil and will drop specialized sensors for a P3 research aircraft to gather more data.
The agency is also working closely with researchers from The Pelican to expedite analysis of the team's data.
In the meantime, NOAA will err on the side of caution, expanding fishery closures effective as of 6:00 pm this evening.
In total, 45,728 square miles have been closed to fishing to date --that equates to about 19% of the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Dr. Lubchenco said the agency is taking a proactive approach to seafood safety and will implement a broad-scale seafood sampling plan and increase monitoring of the biological impacts of the oil on sea life.
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