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Gulf oil spill targets Florida beaches as it nears loop current

New forecasts suggest that the loop current could carry the Gulf oil spill to Florida beaches within the next eight to 10 days. After that, it could reach the Atlantic Ocean.

By Staff writer / May 18, 2010

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida discusses a map that shows the possible track of the Gulf oil spill once it enters the loop current. Senator Nelson was speaking at a Senate hearing Tuesday.

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Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may soon move south where it is expected to impact the Florida coast as soon as eight to 10 days.

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Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) told reporters Tuesday that the so-called loop current, a fast-moving underwater current from the Caribbean has the potential to pick up oil from the south end of the slick and rotate it into the direction of the western coast of Florida, where it will be picked up by the Gulf Stream and taken in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill

Sensors in the water will help gauge the water’s temperature and direction, officials say. Persistent onshore winds and underwater temperatures will be factors in determining when or if the oil will hit Florida shorelines.

“This is a time for awareness and preparation but not overreaction,” said Jane Lubchenco, NOAA undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere.

Tar balls in the Keys

Oil in the form of tar balls is already washing ashore in the Florida Keys. Ms. Lubchenco said they are on their way to a Coast Guard laboratory in Connecticut where testing will determine if they came from the oil spill that started with a blowout on the Deepwater Horizon April 20.

But Lubchenco did add: “It is safe to say the tar balls … are an example of what might happen should oil become entrained in the loop current. That is a scenario we are anticipating and preparing for.”

The oil expected to appear on Florida beaches will likely be “weathered” – diluted by as much as 40 percent through its exposure to the water and sun. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's office sent a press release with photos to show residents what forms the oil might take on the shore. He asked that any sightings be reported immediately to an emergency command center.

“Floridians and visitors can play an active role in minimizing any potential threats to Florida’s beautiful beaches and coastline by reporting the impact of oil … it is important that we be prepared and informed about what to look for,” Governor Crist said in the statement released late Tuesday afternoon.

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