According to a study recently published in Environmental Science and Technology scientists from both École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Eawag in Switzerland, a recent oil spill experiment performed in the North Sea has resulted in several important clues that will aid in the creation of measures to tackle calamitous oil spills.
While almost any high school student might be able to tell you that oil and water don’t mix there any many things about oil spills that are not common knowledge. During an actual oil spill a certain amount of the oil immediately dissolves in the water and some reportedly ends up in the air.
In fact, an oil spill has an even worse effect on the environment than most people know. The amount of oil that evaporates can theoretically bring on what is sometimes called “aviation pollution” and even the amount that does break down into the water can still be dangerous to sea life.
Their oil spill experiment resulted in an immediate reaction. The research team noted the reaction mainly occurred within the first day (24 hours) following the incident as well as how the water responds to this changed environment. Specifically the water changes its composition shortly after an oil spill.
Researcher Samuel Arey, author of the study, noted that most of “the unstable compounds” created by the oil spill blends with the air and begins to pollute the air. The other poisonous substances still present—such as naphthalene—breakdown into the salt water and creates a hazard for the all aquatic ecosystems.
Arey also added that his team worked with an emergency response specialist in order to report an oil spill incident. This helped to provide the investigative team with a better idea of what exactly happens when real oil spills occur.
No two oil spills are alike so this makes it difficult to fully comprehend the environmental impact. Still this is an important step towards knowing all the facts. The project was complete with the aid of the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat, , the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research, the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA.