The thousands of oil and ocean specialists
working to contain the Deepwater Horizon disaster have a new potential
problem to contend with: the official opening yesterday of the Gulf of
Mexico hurricane season.
In keeping with the unfolding nature of
the crisis, where bad news has been compounded by yet more bad news,
2010 promises to be a busy hurricane season.
In the past few years
the storms have been limited as a result of the giant weather pattern
known as El Niño, but that is now subsiding.
at Colorado State University predict an unusually high number of named
storms – thunderstorms with a clear circular motion and wind speeds of
at least 40mph. They expect 15 named storms, eight of which could be
hurricane strength (at least 74mph).
Oceanographers are now
looking at the likely impact of storms on the Gulf clean-up operation.
For a start, the current efforts to contain and extract oil from the
sea's surface are likely to be disrupted.
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The more than 500 boats
working around the stricken oil well would have to turn back to shore,
and the hard containment booms protecting more than 100 miles of beaches
and marshlands would be overcome by waves whipped up by strong winds.
worryingly, storms could drive the oil far inland. Mark Bourassa, a
specialist in oceans and weather at
Florida State University, estimates that a hurricane or tropical storm
could push oil up to 12 miles upriver – and deep into the grassy marshes
that cover much of the Gulf shoreline and act as breeding grounds for
fish and birds.
"The Gulf marshlands are particularly vulnerable
and that could do great ecological damage," Bourassa said.
move in an anticlockwise direction in the Gulf, and those that strike
to the west of the Deepwater Horizon well are likely to drive the oil
onshore, while those that strike to the east are more likely to push it
back out to sea. Florida will be particularly vulnerable to storms
sweeping the pollution in its direction.
The high winds and big
waves could also vastly extend the surface area over which the slick
extends, making the clean-up all the more difficult.