Tracking the Spill

USF Researcher: Left Uncapped, Gulf Oil Spill Can Affect the Keys and Florida’s East Coast

By Vickie Chachere

St. Petersburg, Fla. (April 27, 2010) – USF College of Marine Science Physical Oceanographer Robert Weisberg’s specialty is understanding how water moves in the Gulf of Mexico, so when oil began leaking from a sunken rig last week, Weisberg was the one who had the frontline look at where the oil might go.

The prognosis is a relief for Florida’s Gulf Coast, but still worrisome for the Florida Keys and the state’s east coast, where currents would deposit some of the 36-mile slick without intervention, Weisberg warned Tuesday. An estimated 42,000 gallons of oil a day continues to leak from the open well.

“If they fail to cap the off the well today and oil continues to leak unabated, at some time in the future it will make its way to the loop currents and go to the Keys and the east coast of Florida,” Weisberg said.

Weisberg heads the Ocean Circulation Group at the College of Marine Science, a group of researchers using the latest in ocean monitoring technology to track conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. This week, he worked to construct a new model to show where the model might go, building of the group’s extensive work in understanding water movement in the gulf.

Click the “play” button on this model to see how the currents would move oil spilled in the north central gulf. And this model shows projections for the Deep Horizon spill.

The oil slick is located about 36 miles from the Louisiana coast, where the BP rig, Deepwater Horizon, sank after an explosion on Thursday.  Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead, and the explosion has prompted environmental concerns in Florida, where drilling in the gulf is a particularly sensitive proposition.

Click here for the Ocean Circulation Group’s website which includes more models, publications and more information on the group’s research.


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.