Currents could carry oil slick to the Carolinas

Although the chances are slim, under the right conditions oil from the gulf spill could reach the Atlantic coast. More than 20 years ago near Naples, Fla., an outbreak of toxic algae called a “red tide” did just that. Here’s a look at the currents and some details from the red-tide incident. Raleigh
Cape Hatteras

A B

August 1987 Red tide outbreak is blown by a high-pressure system into the loop current and then into the Gulf Stream; it heads up the Atlantic coast October Tongues of the Gulf Stream separate and are blown toward shore by northeastern winds; red-tide algae infest shell sh in North Carolina’s Onslow Bay

Charlotte

N.C.

Wilmington

B
Winds

S.C.

Miss.
Mobile New Orleans

Ala.
Panama City

Ga.

Charleston

Atlantic Ocean
GULF STREAM
The Gulf Stream intersects with the Labrador current at Cape Hatteras, turns eastward and ows across the Atlantic toward Great Britain

Jacksonville

La.
Sunken rig

OIL SLICK
Winds

Fla.
Tampa Winds

LOOP CURRENT
The loop current is formed by warm water rushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea

A

Naples Miami
Florida Keys

BAHAMAS

Gulf of Mexico

Florida Straits

FLORIDA CURRENT
Havana

CUBA MEXI CO

100 km 100 miles

Caribbean Sea
Water temperatures Warmer Cooler

Source: Leonard J. Pietrafesa et. al., “The Invasion of the Red Tide in North Carolina Coastal Waters,” University of North Carolina Sea Grant College Program, N.C. State University, 1988, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Graphic: Bruce Henderson and Wm Pitzer, Charlotte Observer

© 2010 MCT

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