Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Loop Current

In 1992, a container ship crossing the Pacific Ocean from China lost its cargo of nearly 29,000 rubber duck toys during a winter storm. In the nearly two decades since then, the toys - easily identified by the "First Years" brand name etched in the plastic - have washed up on the shores of Alaska, Chile, and Australia, drifted through Arctic pack ice, and - as of 2007 - started showing up on the shores of Europe.

But what could have been another banal contribution to the Pacific Garbage Patch instead became a valuable scientific experiment. Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been spending the past two decades keeping track of where the rubber toys end up, and when, for a detailed insight into the nature of ocean currents.

Now, another petroleum-based consumer product is giving us a real-time lesson on how ocean currents work in the Gulf of Mexico. Here's a satellite view of the big oil slick from Monday, via NASA's Earth Observatory:

See that long tendril of an oil slick stretching out towards the southeast? That's the Gulf Loop Current, and here's where it's taking the oil next (via the Palm Beach Post):

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