Science & Technology

UWF professors say hurricane season could bring concern to the gulf area

The month of June began with crews toiling away in the Gulf of Mexico to stop the oil spill and U.S. scientists predicting an active hurricane season for 2010. While hurricane season is typically greeted with moderate levels of anxiety by residents along the Gulf Coast, this year the oil spill, with its ever-changing size and scope, represents an additional source of concern for those who call the coast home. Besides potentially causing more damage in several states and hampering efforts to capture leaking oil, a tropical system, through its storm surge, could push surface oil and dispersed oil onto beaches, vegetation and homes several miles inland.

“If we were to get a Gulf Coast hurricane, there’s a pretty good chance the track would pass through where the oil is now,” said Klaus Meyer-Arendt, chair of UWF Environmental Studies at UWF.

“It’s too big of a footprint,” said Matthew Schwartz, Environmental Studies associate professor and oceanographer at UWF. “And as far as I know, this is all new territory. I don’t know of another large oil spill that has been affected by tropical systems.”

Meyer-Arendt said there is a possibility that a hurricane coming ashore in the months ahead could help — if a storm’s strong winds were to push the oil further away from Gulf Coast shores. But due to variables associated with hurricanes  – strength, wind direction, path, where and if it comes ashore – the primary concern is storm surge, and this year, that surge will be oil-tainted.

Storm surge is the elevated water underneath the hurricane. Surges are often larger offshore, but usually diminish as the storm comes into contact with land.

“The oil on the surface would definitely come in because the storm surge just elevates all of the water and pushes it in,” Meyer-Arendt said. While the water would eventually retreat, it would leave behind an oil sheen.

It’s trickier to predict how large oil quantities resting in the deepest waters would be impacted by a storm. But Meyer-Arendt believes most of that oil lies too deep to be disturbed, but again, that could depend on a storm’s variables.

When compared to coastal Louisiana with its marshes and delta, Pensacola’s geography might help it fair better against a hurricane, especially a less powerful storm.

For more information, contact Meyer-Arendt at (850) 474-2792 or e-mail Contact Schwartz at (850) 474-3469 or e-mail Follow the UWF oil spill response at or on Twitter by searching #uwfoilresponse.

By Susie Forrester, University Marketing Communications