Oil Spill Chemical Characteristics Summit

On June 29, 2010 the four South Atlantic Sea Grant Programs held a second roundtable of recognized petrochemical and chemical oceanographic experts from the region. They met to consider, discuss, and answer questions on what forms Gulf of Mexico oil is likely to be in if it arrives in regional waters. The panel reached consensus on what is generally known and unknown about the leaking oil, how it weathers, and how it could change form, concentration and toxicity before reaching the South Atlantic U.S. The panel reached five conclusions:

  1. A deep subsurface plume of microscopic droplets of oil with and without a dispersant coating is unlike any known historic oil spill.
  2. In addition to oil at depth, a large fraction of the oil has risen to the surface of the Gulf, where it is forms into sheens, mousse and tar balls that are being rapidly weathered.
  3. Highly weathered tar balls and subsurface dissolved and micro-droplets are the most likely forms for any oil reaching the east coast.
  4. Concentrations and toxicity of any oil (surface and subsurface) that might reach SE waters will be substantially lower than in the Gulf of Mexico.
  5. Ecological and human health effects of micro-droplet forms of oil with dispersant are largely unknown.

The panel also made a follow-up recommendation to establish a monitoring network to determine clean, baseline conditions and to inform decision-makers of the arrival of various forms of oil throughout the SE region.

An executive summary of the summit is available at this link.

SEE ALSO: Physical Oceanography Summit, June 9, 2010

Last Updated July 12, 2010

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