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The immediate aftermath of an oil spill
Date:8/8/2014

the hydrocarbons are dispersed into the water or the overlying air well before scientists arrive at the site.

In order to collect data on the immediate aftermath of an oil spill, the researchers collaborated with emergency response specialists of the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat to recreate a four cubic meter oil spill in the North Sea, in a shipping zone already burdened by pollutants, 200 kilometers off the coast of the Netherlands. By studying this relatively small oil release, they were able to gain a better understanding of what goes on in much larger spills, with findings that could be useful to assess the risks to underwater life, as well as to emergency response team workers at the sea surface.

No two oil spills are alike. Aside from the sheer volume of oil released onto the sea surface, the environmental impact of an oil spill depends on external factors, such as the wind, waves, and the temperature of the air and the water. The North Sea experiment, for instance, was carried out on a summer day with two-meter high waves. Within just over a day, the surface oil slick had almost dissipated. On a cooler day with less wind and smaller waves, the slick would have likely persisted longer.

Thanks to a computer model that was tested against the data collected in the North Sea, the researchers are now able to extrapolate their findings to larger spills and other environmental conditions. Results from the study will provide the researchers with tools to better assess the immediate impact of future disasters on humans and on the environment, as well as to plan the emergency response, even in settings that differ strongly from those encountered in the North Sea.


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Contact: Samuel Arey
samuel.arey@epfl.ch
41-216-938-031
Ecole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne
Source:Eurekalert

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