Gulf oil spill: Slick is nearing the swift-moving Loop Current

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The giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is brushing against the edges of the Loop Current, a swift oceanic stream that could take it to the southeast Florida coast.

The Coast Guard and a shipload of scientists who saw the slick firsthand gave conflicting reports, but all agreed that the spill and powerful current have drawn closer together.


“We feel like it has entered the Loop Current,” William Hogarth, dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. If it does sweep around the Florida peninsula, he said, it could cause extensive damage to the Everglades.

“Once it gets into those sensitive areas, it’s much much harder to clean,” he said. ““No one wants it anywhere, but on the beaches it’s easier to clean. It’s a tar ball, much like picking up cat litter.”

The Coast Guard says the bulk of the oil remains miles from the current, although a branch of the slick is approaching it.

“We know the oil has not entered the Loop Current,” Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said at a news conference Monday afternoon in Robert, La. “A leading edge sheen is getting close to it, but it has not entered the Loop Current.

The larger volume of oil is several miles from the Loop Current.

The Loop Current originates in the Caribbean Sea, curls around the central Gulf of Mexico and heads through the Florida Straits to join the Gulf Stream. In the worst-case scenario, it could carry the oil up the coast of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, where local winds and currents could drive it toward shore.

--David Fleshler and William E. Gibson
Reporting for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel