Thursday, June 17, 2010

Deepwater Horizon - Future Implications

What does the future hold for the Gulf of Mexico and the Northern Atlantic? British Petroleum has doomed most of the Gulf of Mexico and their inhabitants with the Deepwater Horizon blow-out. Regardless of the current efforts there is no end in site to the escalating damages. Hayward, CEO of BP, said under oath today in the hearings on Capital Hill that the disaster was preventable and they are often working "like a laser" for safety on their rigs. As the pundits talk about what is to happen, let's realize the true fingers of this catastrophe - environmental, economic, health, and potentially devastating secondary storm systems. Here's the picture of the Gulf from June 12th. The scope of this disaster has not yet been felt by the inhabitants and most of the oil is hidden in vast plumes under the surface, so let's think through what will happen going forward!
First we're going to see wildlife turn up on the shores. There's an explosion in the body counts of dead pelicans, flamingos, dolphins, porpoises, other fish and wildlife. Yesterday a 25 foot sperm whale was reported dead on the shores of Pascagoula, Mississippi. Currently, 449 sea turtles reported dead. 45 dolphins reported dead. Both professional fishermen and Game fishermen have left the waters completely and the industry is at a standstill.
The businesses that thrive on vacationers and tourists are done for the high season and those that would come have been canceling their reservations in droves. The professionals need to conserve their resources and break lease and find non-polluted clearer waters if they choose to continue in their current occupations. For many involved in real estate already hard struck by the recent recession, this will be the final blow. They will no longer be able to sell their properties and the value of them will not come back.
For the states along the Gulf Coast, the tax revenue brought in by sales will be down considerably. Let's take a close look at Florida. This map is the Florida population density map from the 2000 US census. It is outdated and does not reflect the housing boom that ended in 2008.
The areas of Central West, and South West Florida have more that 5000 people per square mile. At an average of a $40,000 per person per paycheck, this will affect $60,000,000 in tax revenue per square mile in the densely populated regions. Regardless of the impact on the local economy, the situation is soon to spread.

I do believe it will affect Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi heavily, but Florida the most. The water currents are regular in the Gulf. In this map from the University of Miami, CIMAS & NOPP you will see an accurate vector direction of the current. This is a clear indication that the oil flow will eventually coat the Florida Keys, and oil will wash up on shore in Miami, Key Largo, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach. There is indisputable evidence that the current will draw oil (carcinogenic) to the shores of North Carolina. The health risks of ground water contamination and dispersion within the food chain have been seen in other areas of the world. The result is a spike in the increase in cancer among residents of the affected regions. A majority of the oil is still hidden in vast underwater plumes that will churn up during storm season. For more on the health implications of petroleum please read the CDC's report from 1999 on total petroleum hydrocarbons
In our next map we see the current temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico. As one would expect from the current flow, the water is warmer where the current pools. Soon to be recognized will be the surface temperature increases due to the oil pollutants.
A current report from the NOAA National Data Buoy Center shows that buoy station 42040 MOBILE SOUTH 64 nm South of Dauphin Island, AL is reporting a temperature 1 meter below the surface at 97°F. The surface temperature most likely is in excess of 100°F where as the air temperature is only 86.5 °F. According to a 2008 study in Nature magazine, when the Atlantic warms one degree in the dead of summer, the overall hurricane activity jumps by half. The affected region is posting a 13 degree surface water temperature change from last year. If a big storm or hurricane was to hit the region, the waters will fuel the strength of it and will churn up the deep sea plumes of oil. This will allow a greater area around the flow to stay warmer for longer.
The surface oil will dissipate eventually. We might get lucky and a majority of the oil will sink to the bottom, but that's only partial luck. The food chain will ultimately be affected and recommendations for consuming food from the region must be taken with a touch of salt/oil. Most of the wildlife depend on consumption of smaller organisms that live closer to the floor of the Gulf. These effects are unknown, but a long term and long range study must be conducted in the coming years to understand this better.

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