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UCSB scientists document fate of huge oil slicks from seeps at coal oil point
Date:5/13/2009

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Twenty years ago, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez was exiting Alaska's Prince William Sound when it struck a reef in the middle of the night. What happened next is considered one of the nation's worst environmental disasters: 10.8 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the pristine Alaskan waters, eventually covering 11,000 square miles of ocean.

Now, imagine 8 to 80 times the amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez accident.

According to new research by scientists from UC Santa Barbara and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), that's how much oil has made its way into sediments offshore from petroleum seeps near Coal Oil Point in the Santa Barbara Channel. Their research, reported in an article being published in the May 15 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, documents how the oil is released by the seeps, carried to the surface along a meandering plume, and then deposited on the ocean floor in sediments that stretch for miles northwest of Coal Oil Point.

In addition, the research reveals that the oil is so degraded by the time it gets buried in the sea bed that it's a mere shell of the petroleum that initially bubbles up from the seeps. "These were spectacular findings," said Christopher Reddy, a marine chemist at WHOI and one of the co-authors of the new paper.

Other co-authors include UCSB's David Valentine, associate professor of earth science; and Libe Washburn, professor of geography; and Emily Peacock and Robert K. Nelson, both of WHOI.

The lead author is Christopher Farwell, who at the time of the research was an undergraduate studying chemistry at UCSB. Inspired by this project, Farwell has changed his career path and is now a graduate student at UCSB studying marine science and earth science. "It was a great opportunity," Farwell said. "I was able to cross over into a different discipline that allowed me to make a contribution and understand the process
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Contact: George Foulsham
george.foulsham@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-3071
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert  

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