Environmental science

Journal 5 – Oil Spill – ENVS 100 Online Class

❖ Read this handout beforehand, to be sure you have everything you need.

❖ Post a synthesis reflection of what you learned. Incorporate information from all of the required questions in Parts A, B, and C. (Do not simply answer the questions…Write about what you learned from them.) Feel free to expand your reflection in the directions of your interest!

The objectives of this hands-on activity are: 1. To simulate an oil spill in the marine environment and to try several methods of cleaning up the spill.

You will be simulating oil in open water, oil on a beach, and oil on the feathers of a bird.

2. To calculate the size of an oil spill and determine whether it exceeded the legal limits.

3. To consider the sources and impacts of nonpoint-source oil pollution

4. To connect this activity with other course concepts

5. To attempt bioremediation using local seawater (optional)




Supplies you will need for SECTION A:

• To simulate the open ocean, a coast, and wildlife: o Container: One deep dinner-sized plate or pie pan or Tupperware-style storage container o Water: To simulate water ☺ o Drinking straw: To create wind o Sand: Enough to build a beach in your plate o Feather: One feather from a craft-supplies store or pillow (or otherwise completely sterilized)

• Oils (to simulate spilled oils) – Small quantities of each o Cooking oil (olive, canola, corn, etc.) o Mineral oil o Other oils of your choosing (castor, etc) o Note: If you want your oil to look more like crude oil, you can mix in some powdered chocolate and shake well. o DO NOT USE REAL MOTOR OIL! It requires special hazardous-materials (hazmat) disposal methods!

• Cleaners (to simulate liquid cleanup methods) – Small quantities of each o Dishwashing liquid (or shampoo) o Rubbing alcohol (or isopropyl alcohol, or vodka) o Cold water o Hot water

• Sorbents and containments (to simulate physical cleanup methods) o Cotton pads or cotton balls or gauze pads (to simulate sorbent pads) o Small quantities of dried grass clippings (to simulate straw bales) o Other materials of your choosing, such as:

▪ Piece of nylon pantyhose material ▪ Coffee filter ▪ Toilet paper ▪ Cotton string ▪ (Etc)

o Optional: Tweezers (to help you gently move the materials around)

Supplies List for Optional SECTION D – CAUTION: Uses diesel fuel and fertilizers

• To attempt oil bioremediation (optional) □ Pond water or sea water □ Clear glass bottle or jar with tight-fitting screw top or stopper □ A few slow-release fertilizer pellets or a drop of liquid fertilizer (from gardening store) □ Small volume of automotive diesel (from gas station)

NOTE: When you are done with the experiment, dispose of the supplies via your town’s hazardous materials (hazmat) protocols. Gas stations, oil-change outlets, car washes, county hazmat locations, etc might accept them.


SECTION A – Oil Spill and Cleanup Simulations

Part 1 – Oil-in-Open Water Simulation

1. Fill your plate with water (to a depth of about 1/2”). Pour a small amount of your first simulated “crude oil” onto the surface of the water. Record your observations.

2. Using the drinking straw, blow on the surface of the oiled water, lightly at first, then more strongly. This is a simulation of wind transport and mixing. What happens to the oil?

3. Use the drinking straw to stir the oil and water as vigorously as possible without spilling the liquid over the rim of the plate. This is a simulation of mixing by wave action. What happens to the oil?

4. a. Add several drops of the dishwashing liquid to the surface of the oil/water mixture. This is a simulation of the use of an oil dispersant. Record your observations.

b. Can you think of any benefit to using an oil dispersant in the real world? If so, what?

c. Can you think of any negative consequences of using a dispersant? If so, what?

5. Empty out your plate, then fill it with water again, and add some more oil. Place two sorbent pads (cotton/gauze) on the surface, and drag them around gently with your fingers (or tweezers). Remove the sorbent pads. How well did the sorbent pads soak up the oil?

6. Remove the sorbent pads, add a little more oil if necessary, then sprinkle some dried grass clippings (to simulate straw) onto the oily surface. Gently move the grass clippings around, then remove them. How well did the grass clippings soak up the oil?

Part 2 – Oil-on-Beach Simulation

7. Clean your plate and create a “wet sand beach” with some open water. Pour some of your simulated “crude oil” onto the surface of the beach. What happens to the oil?

8. Using fingers or tweezers, dip a sorbent pad in each of the following, and attempt to clean oil off the beach. For each substance, describe your relative success in cleaning the oil off the sand. 
 • Cold Water • Hot Water • Rubbing Alcohol • Liquid/Dish Soap

9. What special problems are evident with regard to cleaning oil off a sand beach?

Part 3 – Oiled Bird Simulation

10. Remove your “beach” and clean your plate. Dip a sterilized feather into your simulated “crude oil”, then place it on your plate. Using sorbent pads, attempt to clean the oil off the feather with each of the following, and describe your observations: 
 • Cold Water • Hot Water • Rubbing Alcohol • Liquid/Dish Soap

Part 4 – Other Scenarios

11. Now use the other equipment and materials at your disposal (see the supplies list above, and use your imagination). Repeat portions of the simulations above, to try to clean up the ocean water and your beach as best you can. Record your methods and your results for each scenario.

Part 5 – Conclusions

12. Based on your observations during these simulations, what would be your recommendations for clean-up techniques in a real oil spill in Puget Sound, for each of the following situations? (Note: Doing nothing is one possible option.) Explain your reasoning. 
 • Open Ocean • Beaches • Oiled Wildlife


SECTION B – Calculations (show your work, in enough detail that I can follow your reasoning) 13. An oil spill, with the appearance of black to dark brown, is sighted by a commercial airliner flying over the Great Barrier Reef.

The spill is estimated to be 1.5 kilometers long and 50 meters wide. How much oil (in liters) would there be in the spill? (Remember that to produce a black to dark brown color, the oil would have to be at least 100 microns thick.)

14. A Coastwatch surveillance aircraft photographs a ship trailing a silvery oil discharge from its stern. The discharge is 13.5 nautical miles and at least the width of the vessel which is 37.5 meters. An oil spill on the water that gives a silvery sheen is approximately 1 micron in thickness. How much oil (in liters) has the ship discharged into the sea?

15. A fishing boat reports an oil spill near a ship to the local maritime authority. The ship is radioed and asked whether oil was being discharged from its vessel. The captain reports that the ship has discharged only 10 liters of heavy fuel waste oil during a bilge pump-out which is mixed with 100 tonnes of sea water. Has the ship exceeded the legal limit of oil discharge of 15 parts per million (15 parts of oil to 1 million parts of water)? Assume oil and sea water have the same density for the calculation (but see the tables in the background section for closer estimates).

NOTE: MATH HINTS for Questions #13-15 are at the end of the Background Information section of this document!

SECTION C – Extensions and Connections 16. Not all oil pollution comes from a single, localized source such as an oil tanker. In fact, in many locations the majority comes

from nonpoint sources such as storm drains, household car washing, poor car maintenance (oil drips), etc. Most people do not realize that water in storm drains is not treated before being discharged, and thus may contain very high concentrations of oil and other pollutants if they – and their neighbors, family, and local businesses – are not careful. List the following: • As many nonpoint sources of oil pollution as you can think of (residential and other) • Their impacts on the environment and wildlife • Ideas for how to minimize the pollution and its impacts

17. Step back and put the information you learned in this activity into the context of the rest of this course. Write a synthesis of how this all connects.

Optional : SECTION D – Diesel Oil Bioremediation

18. Do the “Experiment Demonstrating Oil Bioremediation”, posted at: https://www.amsa.gov.au/community/kids-and- teachers-resources/kids/teachers/experiment_bioremediation/index.html , or an alternative. Report your results when you have completed the experiment (it takes about a week). Document each stage with words, sketches, photographs, and/ or video. NOTE: When you are done with the experiment, dispose of the supplies via your school’s/town’s hazardous materials (hazmat) protocols. Gas stations, oil-change outlets, car washes, county hazmat locations, etc might accept them. “The experiment…is very simple and costs very little to do. In bioremediation you need: oil eating organisms (bugs), nutrients, oxygen, water and the food “oil”. There are plenty of natural organisms, bacteria, fungi etc in the air and water around us so there is no need to go searching for them.”

Background Information

Oil in the Marine Environment A small amount of oil leaks into the ocean from natural seeps on the sea floor. In recent decades, however, our growing dependence on marine transportation for petroleum products, offshore drilling, near-shore refining, and urban runoff have superceded the natural seepage of oil into the ocean by at least a factor of ten. Of course, the most highly publicized oil releases are associated with relatively rare, but catastrophic tanker accidents such as the Exxon Valdez, but these account for only a small percentage (about 3%) of the average amount of oil spilled into the ocean each year. Much more oil enters the marine environment each year through “routine” shipping operations and runoff from land-based sources.

Once oil is spilled into the ocean, several things happen to it. First, it is often transported and spread by winds, waves, tides, and currents. Lighter, more volatile components of the oil evaporate into the atmosphere, contributing to air pollution. Heavier, dense components of the oil ball up and sink to the bottom, coating or becoming incorporated into bottom sediments and harming benthic organisms for years. Storm winds and waves can mix oil and water into a frothy emulsion (known as “chocolate mousse”) that impacts pelagic organisms, such as plankton, birds, fish, and marine mammals. Most components of oil do not dissolve easily in water, but those that do can harm the delicate juvenile forms of marine organisms even in minute concentrations. The insoluble components of oil form sticky layers of oil on the surface that prevent free diffusion of gases, clog organisms’ feeding structures and gills, kill larvae,


and decrease the light available for photosynthesis. When the skin or fur of marine mammals become coated with oil, they are often unable to regulate their body temperature (remember they, like us, are endotherms), and may die of hypothermia.

Methods of Oil Spill Cleanup The first step in oil spill cleanup is typically containment by booms made of logs or linked plastic floats. Skimmers, or special boats that recover oil using conveyor belts or vacuum hoses are then used to scoop up the confined floating oil. In some cases, absorbent material, known as sorbents, are used to make it easier to collect the oil. Examples might include natural materials such as straw, or sorbent pads made of some absorbent but floatable material like polypropylene. In some cases, burning of the surface oil is carried out, but this in itself is hazardous and has obvious environmental consequences. Oil dispersant chemicals, which are similar to detergents, are sometimes sprayed on oil spills to help break them up and disperse them, but these chemicals present environmental hazards of their own. Bioremediation, involving the introduction of natural or genetically-engineered oil-eating bacteria, has been shown to be partially effective in reducing quantities of spilled oil, but is tricky to use, and has not yet been proven to be completely risk-free in the marine environment. Finally, when oil fouls beach or rocky shoreline areas, cleanup methods employed in the past have included high pressure sprays of water or steam. While this method definitely improves the appearance of the shoreline, biological studies have shown that in most cases it does more harm than good, and sometimes effectively sterilizes the environment, killing everything that the oil didn’t.

All oil spill cleanup methods are only partially successful, and in many cases research has found that the cleanup may actually make the environmental damage worse than it would have been if the spill had been left alone. Oil in the marine environment is toxic and ugly, but it is ultimately biodegradable, and nature will, over many years or decades, eventually repair itself if left alone. The cheapest and most effective oil spill treatment is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

The Exxon Valdez Spill On March 24, 1989 at 4 minutes past midnight, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Alaska’s spectacular Prince William Sound. An environmental nightmare began that changed not only Prince William Sound, but the world. No longer would people blindly believe promises from corporations that their operations were completely safe.

A total of 11,000,000 gallons of Alaska North Slope crude oil leaked from the ruptured hull of the ship, impaled by the jagged rocks of Bligh Reef. Within two months, the oil had been driven along a path stretching 470 miles to the southwest. The initial cleanup of the spill took three years, and the cost was over $2.1 billion. The death toll in terms of wildlife was staggering; the full impact may never be known.

On October 8, 1991, an agreement was reached between the State of Alaska, the federal government, and Exxon on both criminal charges and civil damage claims. In settlement of civil charges, Exxon would pay the State of Alaska and the United States $900 million over a 10-year period. This money would be used for restoration and would be administered by six government Trustees; three federal, three state. In settlement of criminal charges, Exxon would pay a fine of $250 million. Two “restitution funds” of $50 million each were established, one under state control and one under federal authority. Against strong opposition from many Alaskans, $125 million of the balance was forgiven due to Exxon’s cooperation during the cleanup, and upgraded safety procedures to prevent a reoccurrence. The remaining $50 million was divided between the Victims of Crime Act account ($13 million) and the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund ($12 million). On September 16, 1994, a jury in federal court returned a $5 billion punitive damages verdict against Exxon. The company, however, has appealed several times since that time.

In a January 2004 ruling, a U.S. District Court ruled that Exxon must pay a slightly reduced $4.5 billion in punitive damages, but with $2.25 billion added on for back interest (total $6.75 billion). Exxon continued to appeal, and the case was finally heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. The court reduced Exxon’s punitive damages to $507.5 million, about one-tenth of the original penalty.

Joseph Hazelwood was the captain of the Exxon Valdez the night she ran aground. Despite his admission that he had consumed at least three drinks before boarding the ship, Hazelwood was acquitted in 1990 of operating the tanker while drunk. He was convicted of the misdemeanor offence of illegally discharging oil, and on July 8, 1998, the Alaska Appeals Court upheld Hazelwood’s sentence on that charge. Hazelwood currently lives on Long Island, New York, and works as a maritime insurance adjustor for a company owned by his lawyer.

The Exxon Valdez, re-named the SeaRiver Mediterranean, is still carrying oil around the world. Although she has been barred from ever entering Alaskan waters again, Exxon applied to have that court ruling reversed. The appeal was rejected.

An application to merge with Mobil to form the world’s largest corporation was opposed by Senator Slade Gorton on March 4, 1999, due to Exxon’s non-payment of assessed penalties. The merger of the two oil giants occurred later that year despite the senator’s objections. Exxon-Mobil has since become the most profitable company in the world.

Searching for positive results of the spill requires a creative definition of the term “positive.” As a direct or indirect result of the Exxon Valdez disaster, tighter environmental regulations have been imposed on many industries. The most important regulation attempting to protect against a repeat of the spill is the modern standard for tanker ships, which now must be built with double hulls, so that if the outer skin is punctured, no oil will leak. Among other benefits, large tracts of land have been added to Kenai Fjords National Park, using funds from the Exxon fines.



Gulf of Alaska map with an overlay of the path the Exxon Valdez oil took and how long it took to

get there.


Mathematics and Oil Spills (http://www.amsa.gov.au/Marine_Environment_Protection except to Americanize spellings)

Conversion factors for oil spills

When an oil spill occurs many different units of measure may be used to describe the size of the spill. This can be very confusing for the public as often media reports use the largest figure to describe the oil spill.

Volumes of Oil
 barrels x 35 = imperial gallons 
 barrels x 42 = US gallons 
 cubic meters x 264.2 = US gallons 
 cubic feet x 7.481 = US gallons 
 metric tons x 294 = US gallons

US gallons x 0.833 = imperial gallons US gallons x 3.785 = liters US gallons x 0.0238 = barrels (or divide by 42) US gallons x 0.0034 = metric tons 
 1 cubic meter is 1000 liters 1 metric tonne of water is 1,000 liters of water

The amount of oil on the water

Sometimes ships need to discharge oily bilges at sea. The current legal limit for this oily discharge is 15 parts of oil to one million parts of water (or 15 parts per million (ppm)). A discharge of 15 ppm cannot be seen on the water therefore if you can see an oil spill it is an illegal discharge.

When bringing a case to court, authorities need to estimate the amount of oil which may be in the discharge. Oil spills spread quickly on the surface of the sea and the area of the spill is key information which is reported to authorities. In maritime language, nautical miles (nm) is used to describe distance travelled by vessels. You will often need to convert this measurement to metric units to then calculate the amount of oil in the spill.

Nautical miles x 1.852 = metric conversion to kilometers


General glossary of terms used in oil spill observations

Spill characteristics appear differently under low light conditions and under strong winds conditions. • Light sheen: A light, almost transparent, layer of oil. Sometimes confused with windrows and natural sheen resulting from

biological processes. (e.g., coral spawning or algal bloom). • Silver sheen: A slightly thicker layer of oil that appears silvery or shimmery. • Rainbow sheen: Sheen that reflects colors. • Brown oil: Typically a 0.1 mm – 1.0 mm thick layer of water-in-oil emulsion. (Thickness can vary widely depending on wind and

current conditions). May be referred as heavy or dull colored sheens. [Note: 0.1 millimeters = 100 micrometers = 100 microns = 100 µm]

• Mousse: Water-in-oil emulsion often formed as oil weathers: colors can range from orange or tan to dark brown. • Black oil: Area of black colored oil sometimes appearing with a latex texture. Often confused with kelp beds and other natural

phenomenon. • Windrows: Oil or sheen oriented in lines or streaks. Brown oil and mousse can be easily confused with algae scum collecting in

convergence lines, algae patches, or mats or kelp or fucus. Sometimes called streaks, stringers or fingers. • Tarballs: Weathered oil that has formed a pliable ball. Size may vary from pinhead to about 30 cm. Sheen may or may not be

present. • Tar mats: Non-floating mats of oily debris (usually sediment and/or plant matter) that are found on beaches or just offshore. • Pancakes: Isolated patches of oil shaped in a mostly circular fashion. Pancakes can range in size from a few meters across to

hundreds of meters in diameter. Sheen may or may not be present.

Densities (mass per volume)

Water (H2O) = 1.00 g/cm3 Surface sea water ≈ 1.02 g/cm3

Vegetable oil ≈ 0.92 g/cm3



Viscosities (resistance to flow)

* IFO – Intermediate Fuel Oil; ** HFO – Heavy Fuel Oil


For further information: • http://www.psp.wa.gov/ • http://www.psparchives.com/publications/puget_sound/sos/07sos/2007_stateofthesound_fulldoc.pdf • https://www.amsa.gov.au/community/kids-and-teachers-resources/ • http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/In-busy-shipping-lanes-threat-of-big-oil-spill-1101231.php • http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/tcp/sites_brochure/lower_duwamish/lower_duwamish_hp.html • http://duwamishcleanup.org/community-engagement/ • http://www.simetric.co.uk/si_liquids.htm

Natural Product Petroleum Product Approx. Viscosity cSt @ 20 C

Water 1

Kerosene 1.0 – 2.0

Gasoline 1.5 – 2.0

Turpentine 1.5 – 2.0

Milk (whole) 2

Automotive diesel 3 – 5

Heating oil 10

Marine diesel oil 13

Salad oil 60

Canola oil 70

Olive oil 100

IFO* 40 200

SAE 10W30 Lube oil 200

Varnish 300

IFO* 80 500

Glycerine 600

Castor oil 1,000

IFO* 180 2,000

Corn syrup 5,000

HFO** 280 5,000 – 25,000

Honey 10,000

HFO** 380 10,000 – 100,000

Hot fudge syrup 25,000

Molasses 50,000

Heavy molasses 100,000


What Happens to Spilled Oil? (http://www.amsa.gov.au/Marine_Environment_Protection) When oil enters the sea, many physical, chemical and biological processes act on the oil. Many changes happen at once – the slick moves and spreads and environmental processes alter its character. Some of the processes are most important immediately after the spill and other processes become increasingly important as time goes on.

Spreading: Oil is lighter than water, so it floats on the surface as a slick. The slick (or spill) spreads over the surface of the water due to the force of gravity. Spreading decreases steadily as time passes. Dissolution: Occurs when the water-soluble components of oil break down into the large volume of water surrounding the spill. Only a very small percentage of oil dissolves. Sedimentation: The force of gravity will cause some of the oil to travel through the water and settle on the bottom. Movement: An oil spill will move in the same direction and at a similar speed as the water. It is moved by currents, tide and wind. Biodegradation: Many species of marine micro-organisms or bacteria, fungi and yeasts feed on the compounds that make up oil. Hydrocarbons (oil) consumed by these micro-organisms can be partially metabolized or completely metabolized to carbon dioxide and water. The rate of biodegradation depends on the temperature of the oil and water mixture. Evaporation: Causes some of the oil to transfer to the atmosphere. Lighter hydrocarbons evaporate more rapidly than heavy components. Weathering: Is a progressive series of changes in oil characteristics caused by physical, chemical and biological processes. The rate of weathering is highly dependent on the type of oil spilled – the lighter it is, the faster it is likely to weather. Dispersion: The spilled oil is spread into the upper layers of the water column by natural wave action. Oxidation: The chemical combination of hydrocarbons with oxygen is known as oxidation. Oxidation is slow compared with other weathering processes. Emulsification: Is the combination of two liquids – one suspended in the other. In the case of oil, the emulsion can be either oil-in-water or water in oil. Milk is an oil-in-water emulsion; butter is a water-in-oil emulsion. Both types of emulsification require wave action and occur only for specific oil compositions. Water-in-oil emulsions are extremely stable and may persist for months or years after a spill. Water-in-oil emulsions containing 50 to 80 per cent water are most common, and have a reddish-brown colour and grease like consistency. They are some times called ‘chocolate mousse’ because of their pudding-like appearance.

The Effects of Oil on Wildlife (http://www.amsa.gov.au/Marine_Environment_Protection) We have all seen pictures and videos of wildlife covered in black, sticky oil after an oil spill. These pictures are usually of oiled birds. Many people are not aware that it is not just birds that get oiled during a spill. Other marine life such as marine mammals can also suffer from the effects of an oil spill. Even small spills can severely affect marine wildlife.

Not all oils are the same. There are many different types of oil and this means that each oil spill is different depending on the type of oil spilt.

Each oil spill will have a different impact on wildlife and the surrounding environment depending on: • the type of oil spilled, • the location of the spill, • the species of wildlife in the area, • the timing of breeding cycles and seasonal migrations, • and even the weather at sea during the oil spill. Oil affects wildlife by coating their bodies with a thick layer. Many oils also become stickier over time (this is called weathering) and so adheres to wildlife even more. Since most oil floats on the surface of the water it can affect many marine animals and sea birds. Unfortunately, birds and marine mammals will not necessarily avoid an oil spill. Some marine mammals, such as seals and dolphins, have been seen swimming and feeding in or near an oil spill. Some fish are attracted to oil because it looks like floating food. This endangers sea birds, which are attracted to schools of fish and may dive through oil slicks to get to the fish.

Oil that sticks to fur or feathers, usually crude and bunker fuels, can cause many problems. Some of these problems are: • hypothermia in birds by reducing or destroying the insulation and waterproofing properties of their feathers; • hypothermia in fur seal pups by reducing or destroying the insulation of their woolly fur (called lanugo). Adult fur seals have blubber and would not suffer from

hypothermia if oiled. Dolphins and whales do not have fur, so oil will not easily stick to them; • birds become easy prey, as their feathers being matted by oil make them less able to fly away; • marine mammals such as fur seals become easy prey if oil sticks their flippers to their bodies, making it hard for them to escape predators; • birds sink or drown because oiled feathers weigh more and their sticky feathers cannot trap enough air between them to keep them buoyant; • fur seal pups drown if oil sticks their flippers to their bodies; • birds lose body weight as their metabolism tries to combat low body temperature; • marine mammals lose body weight when they can not feed due to contamination of their environment by oil; • birds become dehydrated and can starve as they give up or reduce drinking, diving and swimming to look for food; • inflammation or infection in dugongs and difficulty eating due to oil sticking to the sensory hairs around their mouths; • disguise of scent that seal pups and mothers rely on to identify each other, leading to rejection, abandonment and starvation of seal pups; and • damage to the insides of animals and birds bodies, for example by causing ulcers or bleeding in their stomachs if they ingest the oil by accident. Oil does not have to be sticky to endanger wildlife. Both sticky oils such as crude oil and bunker fuels, and non-sticky oils such as refined petroleum products can affect different wildlife. Oils such as refined petroleum products do not last as long in the marine environment as crude or bunker fuel. They are not likely to stick to a bird or animal, but they are much more poisonous than crude oil or bunker fuel. While some of the following effects on sea birds, marine mammals and turtles can be caused by crude oil or bunker fuel, they are more commonly caused by refined oil products. Oil in the environment or oil that is ingested can cause: • poisoning of wildlife higher up the food chain if they eat large amounts of other organisms that have taken oil into their tissues; • interference with breeding by making the animal too ill to breed, interfering with breeding behaviour such as a bird sitting on their eggs, or by reducing the

number of eggs a bird will lay; • damage to the airways and lungs of marine mammals and turtles, congestion, pneumonia, emphysema and even death by breathing in droplets of oil, or oil fumes


or gas; • damage to a marine mammal’s or turtle’s eyes, which can cause ulcers, conjunctivitis and blindness, making it difficult for them to find food, and sometimes

causing starvation; • irritation or ulceration of skin, mouth or nasal cavities; • damage to and suppression of a marine mammal’s immune system, sometimes causing secondary bacterial or fungal infections; • damage to red blood cells; • organ damage and failure such as a bird or marine mammal’s liver; • damage to a bird’s adrenal tissue which interferes with a bird’s ability to maintain blood pressure, and concentration of fluid in its body; • decrease in the thickness of egg shells; • stress; • damage to fish eggs, larvae and young fish; • contamination of beaches where turtles breed causing contamination of eggs, adult turtles or newly hatched turtles; • damage to estuaries, coral reefs, seagrass and mangrove habitats which are the breeding areas of many fish and crustaceans, interfering with their breeding; • tainting of fish, crustaceans, molluscs and algae; • interference with a baleen whale’s feeding system by tar-like oil, as this type of whale feeds by skimming the surface and filtering out the water; and • poisoning of young through the mother, as a dolphin calf can absorb oil through its mother’s milk. Animals covered in oil at the beginning of a spill may be affected differently from animals encountering the oil later. For example, early on, the oil maybe more poisonous, so the wildlife affected early will take in more of the poison. The weather conditions can reduce or increase the potential for oil to cause damage to the environment and wildlife. For example, warm seas and high winds will encourage lighter oils to form gases, and will reduce the amount of oil that stays in the water to affect marine life. The impact of an oil spill on wildlife is also affected by where spilled oil reaches. For example, fur seal pups are affected more than adults by oil spills because pups swim in tidal pools and along rocky coasts, whereas the adults swim in open water where it is less likely for oil to linger. Dugongs also feed on seagrass along the coast and therefore be more affected by oil spills. Different resources will be needed to combat an oil spill, depending on the number and type of wildlife that is affected. Quick and humane care of wildlife affected by oil spills is required by law. The National Oiled Wildlife Response guidelines have been developed at both the Commonwealth and State/Territory level under Australia’s national strategy to respond to oil and chemical spills in the marine environment. This strategy is known as the National Plan to Combat Pollution of the Sea by Oil and other Noxious and Hazardous Substances (National Plan).

Math Hints for Oil Spill Calculations

13. An oil spill, with the appearance of black to dark brown, is sighted by a commercial airliner flying over the Great Barrier Reef. The spill is estimated to be 1.5 kilometers long and 50 meters wide. How much oil (in liters) would there be in the spill? (Remember that to produce a black to dark brown color, the oil would have to be at least 100 microns thick.)

You are asked for the volume of oil (in liters).

Volumes are 3-dimensional: Volume (V) = Length (L) x Width (W) x Height (H)

Here, the Length and Width are given, and the Height is the thickness of the oil.

Convert L, W, and H to meters (so you can multiply them all together to get cubic meters, m3).

One kilometer = 1000 meters (Use this to convert L from km to m)

One micron = 1 micrometer = 1 x 10-6 meters = 0.000001 meter (Use this to convert H from microns to meters)

Now multiply: V = L x W x H

Now convert to liters – Per the table on page 7 of this handout, 1 cubic meter is 1000 liters. (Use this to convert V from m3 to liters)

Hint: Your final answer should be 7500 liters. You must show me all steps, including units with all numbers.

14. A Coastwatch surveillance aircraft photographs a ship trailing a silvery oil discharge from its stern. The discharge is 13.5 nautical miles and at least the width of the vessel which is 37.5 meters. An oil spill on the water that gives a silvery sheen is approximately 1 micron in thickness. How much oil (in liters) has the ship discharged into the sea?

Do the same thing as in Q#13 above, with one additional conversion step:

Per page 7: Nautical miles x 1.852 = metric conversion from nautical miles to kilometers

Hint: Your final answer should be a little less than 1000 liters. Show your work.

15. A fishing boat reports an oil spill near a ship to the local maritime authority. The ship is radioed and asked whether oil was being discharged from its vessel. The captain reports that the ship has discharged only 10 liters of heavy fuel waste oil during a bilge pump- out which is mixed with 100 tonnes of sea water. Has the ship exceeded the legal limit of oil discharge of 15 parts per million (15 parts of oil to 1 million parts of water)? Assume oil and sea water have the same density for the calculation (but see the tables in this handout for closer estimates).

Try this one on your own. You’ll need to know (page 7) that 1 metric tonne of water = 1000 liters of water. Also, 15 ppm = 15 parts oil to 1,000,000 parts water. Likewise, a concentration of 1 ppm equals 1 liter oil in 1,000,000 liters seawater.

Hint: Your final answer should be YES – The concentration you calculate should vastly exceed the legal limit of 15 ppm. Show your work.


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