Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What is this Loop Current in the Gulf?

image credit: "uscgd8" at flickr

The Loop Current has been making the news since the Gulf Oil Spill occurred a few weeks ago. 
Now that the Oil Spill is drifting east, the Loop Current is now playing a pivotal role in where the oil spill travels.

What is this The Loop Current? is an ocean current that resides between the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba.  It originates in the Caribbean Sea, flows out into the Gulf of Mexico and loops around southeastward into the Florida Keys and into the Bahamas.  Its a few hundred miles wide and runs more than a 1000 feet deep.

According to the Cooperative Institute for Marine and atmospheric studies, the Loop Current draws its waters from the Yucatan Current, which is ultimately fed by the Caribbean Current, Guiana Current and North Equatorial Current. This provides a vital link between North Atlantic and South Atlantic waters.  Here is a graphic showing the ocean currents around the planet from the 1940s. The animation below shows the currents in action.

Althought this might be the first time you've heard about the Loop Current, you don't have to go far back in
history to find that the Loop Current was involved in another natural disaster.  Remember Hurricane
Katrina?  The Loop Current was directly responsible for its rapid intensification into the historic Category 5
hurricane we all remember. Notice how the track of Katrina and Rita coincides with the Loop Current.

Katrina wasn't the first hurricane to feed off of this moisture/heat rich Loop Current.  Hurricane Rita in 2004 intensified over the loop current as indicated above  Hurricane Camille in 1969, the last hurricane to directly hit New Orleans prior to Katrina interacted with "The Loop". Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and Hurricane Allen in 1981 among others have greatly intensified due to the loop current.

Back to the oil spill.  This same Loop Current that played a direct role in Hurricane Katrina's development
is directly involved with the track of the oil in the next severe weeks.

How can we accurately forecast the movement of the oil spill?  For years, the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration has been doing research on the ocean and its movement. NOAA launches surface buoys to gain valuable data on the oceans and their behavior.  Here is the track of ALL of the buoys from 1978 to 2003.

You can see how the current behave near the loop current and how the current ntersects with the Gulf Stream around Florida and up the eastcoast.  Expect the Loop Current to strengthen hurricanes this season.  More on that later this summer.

1 comment:

Boone said...

LOVE it! Fascinating stuff. Thanks for the lesson.