Gulf oil spill threatens Atlantic coast: study

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Oil from the devastating Gulf of Mexico spill could reach thousands of miles of Atlantic coastline and ocean within months, a study showed Thursday.

Computer simulations produced by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) suggested that ocean currents could send oil surging beyond the Gulf of Mexico and along the United States' eastern seaboard.

"I've had a lot of people ask me, 'Will the oil reach Florida?'" NCAR scientist Synte Peacock said in a statement.

"Actually, our best knowledge says the scope of this environmental disaster is likely to reach far beyond Florida, with impacts that have yet to be understood."

At least 20 million gallons of oil are believed to have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico since an April 20 explosion tore through a BP-leased rig just off the Louisiana coast, making it the worst spill in US history.

The NCAR simulations suggested once oil entered the Gulf of Mexico's "Loop Current" - part of the Gulf Stream which sweeps around the Florida panhandle - it would be only weeks before it reached Florida's Atlantic shores.

From there, the current could take oil as far north as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, before turning east, the simulations showed.

It was not know whether the oil would be a thin surface layer or whether it would be below the surface.

The NCAR, a Colorado-based facility supported by the National Science Foundation that works with university scientists, emphasized however that the simulations were not a forecast because it was impossible to accurately predict the exact location of the oil in several weeks or months time.

However all six simulations released Thursday suggested oil would work its way into the Loop Current and along the Atlantic coastline.