JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Oil persistence on beaches in Prince William Sound - a review of SCAT surveys conducted from 1989 to 2002

Elliott Taylor, Doug Reimer
Marine Pollution Bulletin 2008, 56 (3): 458-74
18187161
In 2002, 13 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS), 39 selected sites in Prince William Sound (PWS) were re-surveyed following established shoreline cleanup assessment team (SCAT) field observation procedures to document surface and sub-surface oiling conditions in shoreline sediments and to compare results with those from previous Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team (SCAT) surveys and other surveys in PWS. The selected sites are locations where EVOS oil persisted in 1992, at the time the Federal and State On-Scene Coordinators determined that the cleanup was complete and that further cleanup activities would provide no net environmental benefit. These sites had been included in a 2001 NOAA survey of shoreline oiling conditions and account for 88% of the sub-surface oil residues (SSO) oil documented by that study. The 2002 field survey found isolated occurrences of residual EVOS surface oil residues (SO) in the form of weathered asphalt pavement at 15 of the 39 sites. This residual SO typically consisted of asphalt in mixed sand/gravel substrate, located within a wave shadow effect created by boulders or bedrock in the upper intertidal to supratidal zone. Residual SO, expressed as a continuous oil cover, was less than 200 m(2) within the approximately 111,120 m(2) surveyed. A total of 1182 pits were dug at locations where SSO residues were present in 1992. Six of the 39 sites and 815 (68%) of the pits contained no residual SSO. Eighty-three percent of pits with SSO residues were found primarily in middle to upper intertidal locations. SSO residues commonly occurred in a discontinuous approximately 3 cm thick band 5-10 cm below the boulder/cobble or pebble/gravel veneer. The SO and SSO occurrences in the 2002 survey closely match the locations where they were found in 1992 and earlier surveys; however, in 2002 residual SSO patches are more discontinuous and thinner than they were in the earlier surveys. These sites are biased toward SSO persistence; those that have SSO residues represent less than 0.5% of the originally oiled shorelines in PWS. Despite evidence of continued oil weathering, both at the surface and in the sub-surface, it is clear that the natural cleaning processes at these particular locations are slow. The slow weathering rates are a consequence of the oil residue being incorporated in finer sediments (fine sand, silt, mix) and isolated from active weathering processes as boulders and outcrops, shallow bedrock asperities, or boulder-armoring create wave shadows and limit effective physical action on shorelines.

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