Government Map Shows BP Oil Spill Could Hit East Coast

Oil from BP spill could reach the Carolinas
Oil from BP spill could reach the Carolinas

UPDATE: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released a new interactive BP oil spill map.

It may have become the most popular video on the internet. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), part of the Commerce Department, created a computer simulation of the direction of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill from the day the leak began to Day 132. It shows the slick moving to the tip of Florida, up the East Coast nearly to Washington D.C., and then thousands of miles into the Atlantic Ocean by the end of the summer.

The interactive map, made using computer models by NCAR scientists and collaborators, shows one scenario of how oil from the leak could move. It is based on the behavior of dye -- not oil -- in water. "This is not a forecast, but rather, it illustrates a likely dispersal pathway of the oil for roughly four months following the spill. It assumes oil spilling continuously from April 20 to June 20," the NCAR writes.

The public seems to have ignored the caveat as the video has been picked up by website after website. The NCAR adds,"The computer simulations indicate that, once the oil in the uppermost ocean has become entrained in the Gulf of Mexico's fast-moving Loop Current, it is likely to reach Florida's Atlantic coast within weeks. It can then move north as far as about Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with the Gulf Stream, before turning east. Whether the oil will be a thin film on the surface or mostly subsurface due to mixing in the uppermost region of the ocean is not known."

The model assumes that the oil flow could carry crude that lies as deep as 65 feet beneath the surface. Other simulations assume that the crude sits in a thin film on the top of the water. By the time this pool of crude reaches the East Coast, it could move north at a rate of 100 miles per day.

The simulation will increase the debate about the potential damage of the catastrophe. Current estimated are extremely wide-ranging -- from a few billions dollars to tens of billions -- depending on which direction the oil goes and how much of the Gulf shoreline and fishing industry is affected.

Should the simulation be correct, beaches all along the Eastern Seaboard could be impacted, and tourism and fishing could be in trouble as far north as the Carolinas. In other world, the costs would be unimaginable.