After 20+ Years Oil Still Stuck On Alaska Beaches

During the first few days of the Exxon Valdez spill, heavy sheens of oil, such as the sheen visible in this photograph, covered large areas of the surface of Prince William Sound. Image credit: NOAA

More than two decades have passed since the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound.  Although 38,000 tons (11 million gallons) of crude oil were spilled, given time and the cleanup effort, it was assumed that the spill would be gone in a few years.  Unfortunately, the oil has been very slow to disperse and about 20,000 gallons still remain.  A new study offers an explanation for this fact.  Th reason to due to the composition of the beaches at Prince William Sound.  The beaches there have two layers of rock, with larger rocks on top and finer gravel underneath.  Water, which could have broken up the oil, moves through the bottom layer 1,000 time slower than the top.  When the oil entered the lower level of fine gravel it compacted even further and the elements necessary for the oil to biodegrade were limited.

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