BY Helen Kennedy
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
The BP oil slick could hit the east coast in weeks and will likely soon spread across thousands of miles of Atlantic shoreline, government scientists reported Thursday.
The model shows New England and the mid Atlantic states, including New York and New Jersey, escaping unscathed.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research released a disturbing computer animation showing tendrils of oil coiling like snake in the Gulf of Mexico, winding around Key West into the Gulf Stream, shooting up to North Carolina and then spreading east towards Europe.
Scientists at the federally funded center stressed their animation was only one scenario of what might happen, and is based on the behavior of dye in water, not oil.
“This is not a forecast, but rather, it illustrates a likely dispersal pathway of the oil for roughly four months following the spill,” the agency said in a statement.
But it is a sobering – and dire – warning to southern East Coast beaches that may end up sharing the fate of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida’s panhandle.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘Will the oil reach Florida?’” says NCAR scientist Synte Peacock, who worked on the study. “Actually, our best knowledge says the scope of this environmental disaster is likely to reach far beyond Florida, with impacts that have yet to be understood.”
BP’s latest effort to divert some of the millions of gallons of crude flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from the blown-out well was not going well. BP managed to cut through a broken pipe with giant underwater shears after a diamond-tipped saw got stuck, but the cut was jagged.
Placing a cap over the gusher will now be more challenging, said Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen. The cap will be lowered later Thursday, and only then will it become clear how much oil BP might be able to siphon to a tanker on the surface.
The irregular cut means the cap won’t fit as snugly as officials had hoped, suggesting much of the oil will keep leaking into the sea.
“We’ll have to see when we get the containment cap on it just how effective it is,” Allen said. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said oil was spotted within four miles of the Panhandle coast and state officials pulled down a tourism ad campaign claiming the “coast is clear.”
The Obama administration presented BP with a first bill for cleanup thus far. The total? $69 million.
This animation shows one scenario of how oil released at the location of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico may move in the upper 65 feet of the ocean. This is not a forecast, but rather, it illustrates a likely dispersal pathway of the oil for roughly four months following the spill. It assumes oil spilling continuously from April 20 to June 20. The colors represent a dilution factor ranging from red (most concentrated) to beige (most diluted). The dilution factor does not attempt to estimate the actual barrels of oil at any spot; rather, it depicts how much of the total oil from the source that will be carried elsewhere by ocean currents. For example, areas showing a dilution factor of 0.01 would have one-hundredth the concentration of oil present at the spill site.
The animation is based on a computer model simulation, using a virtual dye, that assumes weather and current conditions similar to those that occur in a typical year. It is one of a set of six scenarios released today that simulate possible pathways the oil might take under a variety of oceanic conditions. Each of the six scenarios shows the same overall movement of oil through the Gulf to the Atlantic and up the East Coast. However, the timing and fine-scale details differ, depending on the details of the ocean currents in the Gulf. (Visualization by Tim Scheitlin and Mary Haley, NCAR; based on model simulations.)