COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE

Persistence of 10-year old Exxon Valdez oil on Gulf of Alaska beaches: the importance of boulder-armoring

Gail V Irvine, Daniel H Mann, Jeffrey W Short
Marine Pollution Bulletin 2006, 52 (9): 1011-22
16524600
Oil stranded as a result of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill has persisted for >10 years at study sites on Gulf of Alaska shores distant from the spill's origin. These sites were contaminated by "oil mousse", which persists in these settings due to armoring of underlying sediments and their included oil beneath boulders. The boulder-armored beaches that we resampled in 1999 showed continued contamination by subsurface oil, despite their exposure to moderate to high wave energies. Significant declines in surface oil cover occurred at all study sites. In contrast, mousse has persisted under boulders in amounts similar to what was present in 1994 and probably in 1989. Especially striking is the general lack of weathering of this subsurface oil over the last decade. Oil at five of the six armored-beach sites 10 years after the spill is compositionally similar to 11-day old Exxon Valdez oil. Analysis of movements in the boulder-armor that covers the study beaches reveals that only minor shifts have occurred since 1994, suggesting that over the last five, and probably over the last 10 years, boulder-armors have remained largely unmoved at the study sites. These findings emphasize the importance of particular geomorphic parameters in determining stranded oil persistence. Surface armoring, combined with stranding of oil mousse, results in the unexpectedly lengthy persistence of only lightly to moderately weathered oil within otherwise high-energy wave environments.

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