Could oil flood North Carolina beaches?

Oil spill in water

June 3, 2010 9:34:00 PM PDT
There is a grim forecast out about the oil spill disaster and its potential impact on the North Carolina coast.A computer model outlines the Gulf of Mexico's Loop Current -- the same current is the current that a Duke professor, along with other scientists, believes could carry oil up the Carolina coast in a matter of weeks.

"Once it goes through the Florida Straits, which it's about ready to do, it could be a matter of weeks to months," Duke Physical Oceanography Professor Susan Lozier said.

Lozier studies large scale ocean circulation at Duke University.

"In general, what's carried in the Gulf Stream stays off shore of North Carolina in the Gulf stream," Lozier said.

But with this disaster, she says we're at nature's mercy.

"If there's like onshore winds or favorable winds to bring things onshore, there's a possibility that some oil could hit the North Carolina coast," Lozier said.

National Center For Atmospheric Research computer models paint a picture of pollution entering the Gulf Loop, rounding the tip of Florida and heading north as far as Cape Hatteras -- hitting east coast beaches as early as July.

"It would do the same harm as they're seeing at the Gulf coast except to a much lesser extent," Lozier said. "My guess is that in the beaches off North Carolina, people probably wouldn't be able to tell that there would be that much oil. I expect there would be that much dilution."

Lozier says pollution could still threaten sea life.

"Absolutely oil in the water can impact, you know, the ocean ecosystem," Lozier said.

And there're a couple of wildcards -- the hurricane season, which could wash even more oil to shore and the length of time it'll take BP to completely plug the well.

"Let's hope that they are able cap this well soon so we sort of know what we're dealing with," Lozier said.

The model also shows pollution reaching European waters by way of Bermuda.

Scientists are cautioning that this is not a forecast, just a possibility.

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