Oil Spill Distribution

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The distribution of oil spilled on the sea surface occurs under the influence of gravitation forces. It is controlled by oil viscosity and the surface tension of water. Only ten minutes after a spill of 1 ton of oil, the oil can disperse over a radius of 50 m, forming a slick 10-mm thick. The slick gets thinner (less than 1 mm) as oil continues to spread, covering an area of up to 12 km2 [Ramade, 1978]. During the first several days after the spill, a considerable part of oil transforms into the gaseous phase. Besides volatile components, the slick rapidly loses water-soluble hydrocarbons. The rest - the more viscous fractions - slow down the slick spreading. Further changes take place under the combined impact of meteorological and hydrological factors and depend mainly on the power and direction of wind, waves, and currents. An oil slick usually drifts in the same direction as the wind. While the slick thins, especially after the critical thickness of about 0.1 mm, it disintegrates into separate fragments that spread over larger and more distant areas. Storms and active turbulence speed up the dispersion of the slick and its fragments. A considerable part of oil disperses in the water as fine droplets that can be transported over large distances away from the place of the spill. Santa Barbara oil spill The notion of new offshore drilling isn't going down well in Santa Barbara, Calif., the idyllic seaside community 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles that has often been called the birthplace of the modern environmental movement. Longtime residents still talk about the oil rig spill in January 1969 that left 35 miles of coastline covered with black goo and caused severe environmental damage. The disastrous spill, which gained worldwide attention, spurred the creation less than a year later of the Environmental Protection Agency by the Nixon administration and passage of the Clean Air Act.
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