Predictive modeling of subsurface shoreline oil encounter probability from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska

Zachary Nixon, Jacqueline Michel
Environmental Science & Technology 2015 April 7, 49 (7): 4354-61
To better understand the distribution of remaining lingering subsurface oil residues from the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) along the shorelines of Prince William Sound (PWS), AK, we revised previous modeling efforts to allow spatially explicit predictions of the distribution of subsurface oil. We used a set of pooled field data and predictor variables stored as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data to generate calibrated boosted tree models predicting the encounter probability of different categories of subsurface oil. The models demonstrated excellent predictive performance as evaluated by cross-validated performance statistics. While the average encounter probabilities at most shoreline locations are low across western PWS, clusters of shoreline locations with elevated encounter probabilities remain in the northern parts of the PWS, as well as more isolated locations. These results can be applied to estimate the location and amount of remaining oil, evaluate potential ongoing impacts, and guide remediation. This is the first application of quantitative machine-learning based modeling techniques in estimating the likelihood of ongoing, long-term shoreline oil persistence after a major oil spill.

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