POMONA — Could pollution from the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill reach New Jersey’s beaches?
While the possibility is slight, oil on our beaches cannot be ruled out entirely, according to Stewart Farrell, director and founder of the Coastal Research Center at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
He said the possibility exists because the Gulf of Mexico circulates its water into the Gulf Stream.
Farrell said water enters the gulf from the Caribbean between Cuba and Mexico along the Yucatan Peninsula and goes in a big loop around the Gulf of Mexico and exits between Cuba and Florida into the Gulf Stream.
Farrell said oil suspended in the water column, because of its density, would escape detection until appears at a location. He said some oil will enter the Gulf Stream.
“How much is still an open question,” said Farrell.
If oil is in the Gulf Stream in the form of surface globules, then southeast winds could drive that ashore anywhere, he said.
“The probability of New Jersey getting more than the east coast of Florida is very low,” said Farrell. “The probability of it coming in quantities enough to cause more than annoyance is relatively low.”
He said the oil could be carried all the way to Ireland, Norway and into the Arctic since the Gulf Stream travels that far.
Farrell said the entire North Atlantic Basin would inherit some of this oil.
The volatile portion of the spill will evaporate and enter the atmosphere and will be disseminated planet-wide, said Farrell. The non-volatile material clumps together, mixes with other debris both organic and inorganic, and forms globs clumping with algae and plastic debris in the water.
“If we have a strong southeast wind set up called the Bermuda High that will drive it towards the coast beaches,” he said. “If that’s not the case, it just stays in the Gulf Stream and we don’t see it,”
“Worst case scenario would be a hurricane coming up right on the Gulf Stream and driving it ashore,” Farrell continued.
The hurricane season heat ups in two months. Farrell said we would not see any oil here in June but the earliest would be late July or August. He said the quantity would be in the “nuisance level, not in the catastrophic close the beaches, nobody goes in the water level.”
“Concentration wise, is it going to be enough to cause environmental damage?” asked Farrell. “It it’s stopped in the next couple of weeks, probably not, the damage will be pretty much confined to the Gulf of Mexico.”
He said the Florida Keys on high on the possibility list of receiving environmental damage because the “Gulf Stream is right there.”
The east coast of Florida also has the potential for environmental damage, said Farrell.
He said the Gulf Stream is a river in the ocean off the Continental Shelf and goes northeast from a point called the Bahama Banks. Farrell said the Gulf Stream is always confined as a river of about 25 miles wide and about 1,000 feet deep.
Oil material 1,500 feet deep in the gulf may never leave the gulf, he said, but if it oxides and becomes less dense, it would end up floating on the water and exit.
If the oil becomes denser and sinks to the bottom, it can become sediment in the gulf, said Farrell. Certain bacteria eat oil, he said.
In mid level waters, as the oil oxidizes, it uses up oxygen in the water and oxygen levels drop which is bad for sea creatures.
Fish kills due to oxygen being depleted in the Gulf are most likely to happen off Louisiana, East Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and the west coast of Florida.