After several days of trickles and tarballs, serious oil slicks have arrived on the Louisiana coast.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) has 22 biologists in the field taking samples and assessing damage to fish, birds, and habitat. Today was the first day that many of them have reported finding oil, according to LDWF spokesperson Laura Deslatte.
Driven by wind and currents, the oil appears to be concentrated west of the Mississippi River, although details are scarce. "It will really create a lot of mess. There's almost no way to clean it up," says Qianxin Lin of Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. But he adds that plants can survive if not completely coated. The most common wetland plants—common reed and smooth cord grass—both grow more than a meter tall, so they should stay above a slick, unless strong winds bat them down.
Interior wetlands, closer to the Mississippi River, are protected to some extent by the freshwater flowing through them to sea. "It would take a storm to get significant oil into that area," says David White of Loyola University New Orleans. He expects that under normal weather conditions, the tall reeds on the fringes of the wetlands would trap the oil and prevent it from reaching more than a kilometer inland.
The weather over the next day might make the situation worse, according to projections by NOAA oceanographers. The latest 24-hour forecast of the oil's trajectory, created by feeding currents and wind predictions into computer models, shows oil hitting dozens of places along Louisiana shorelines, from Caillou Bay in the west to Breton Sound, just east of where the Mississippi meets the gulf. In contrast, yesterday's projection showed oil beaching in just one spot.
For more on the gulf oil spill, see our full coverage.