I’ve just done a Slate piece elaborating on what would happen if a hurricane hit the Gulf oil slick, based upon further research and interviewing. Here’s an excerpt:
Much depends on the angle at which the storm crosses the slick. In the Northern Hemisphere, hurricanes rotate counterclockwise, with the largest storm surge occurring where the winds blow in the direction the storm as a whole is traveling—that’s in front of the eye and off to the right. (Meteorologists worry over a hurricane’s dangerous “right-front quadrant.”) So if a powerful storm approached the slick from the southwest, say, its most potent winds would push the oil forward, instead of sweeping it off to the side and out of the storm’s path. If the storm then plowed into the Gulf Coast, you’d expect an oily landfall.
And how would the slick affect the storm? Not much if at all:
…by the time winds reach hurricane force (greater than 74 mph), they cause so much ocean mixing that any oil slick on the surface would be driven down into the depths and generally broken up. MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel has tested the phenomenon on a small scale using an enclosed tank, half filled with water, with an air rotor at the top capable of generating hurricane force winds. When the rotor turned at high speeds, the surface of the water was torn apart, and the scientists observed no difference in the amount of evaporation that occurred with or without an oily surface film.
It’s even possible that an oil slick could make a powerful hurricane a little stronger. Oil is darker than water, and so it absorbs more sunlight while also blocking evaporation from the sea surface. That means the spill could be trapping heat in one part of the ocean. If a storm passed over and churned up the surface of the water, that potential hurricane energy might then be released.
You can read the full Slate piece here.
Update 9 ET Saturday: This piece is the second most emailed and third most read item on Slate.com right now. Apparently people want to know….
Yesterday came the announcement of an unprecedented collaboration to create climate change journalism. Meet The Climate Desk:
The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, Slate, Wired, and PBS’s new public-affairs show Need To Know.
There has never been a joining of forces like this…but there is every reason to expect it will produce much valuable content. Moreover, The Climate Desk’s expressed raison d’etre makes four points that I heartily agree with:
1) Climate change is slow-moving, vast, and overwhelming for news organizations to grapple with. 2) What coverage there is tends to be fractured and compartmentalized—science, technology, politics, and business aspects are covered by different teams, or “desks” of reporters, despite the intrinsic connections. 3) Coverage is too often fixated on imperiled wildlife, political gamesmanship, or the “debate” over the existence of climate change, all at the expense of advancing the bigger story—how we’re going to address, mitigate, or adapt to it. 4) Cuts to news organizations are making matters worse.
Yes, indeed, yes. So go check out The Climate Desk, and become a follower. We need all the help we can get.