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Guest Speaker: Dr. Prabhakar Clement – 1st seminar
7 October, 2016 @ 10:00 am - 11:00 am
Groome Endowed Professor
Department of Civil Engineering
Title: Impacts of the BP Oil Spill – An Analysis of Past, Present and Future State of Alabama’s Sandy Beaches
Abstract: On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) drilling platform exploring for oil on the Macondo Prospect (MC252) in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) exploded, resulting in one of the largest oil spills. By early May emulsified brownish oil, known as mousse, began washing along various GOM beaches. Sandy amenity beaches located along Alabama’s shoreline were heavily inundated by the emulsified oil starting around early June. This resulted in significant contamination of beaches and the associated coastal waters. In the vicinity of Alabama’s shoreline, a considerable, but unknown, amount of this emulsified oil was submerged by various coastal processes, forming submerged residual oil mats (SOM). The submerged mats are constantly worked on by waves and other shoreline transport mechanisms to yield smaller fragments, known as surface residual oil balls (which are often referred to as tar balls). Little is known regarding the amount and distribution of these oil mats and oil balls, beyond the knowledge that they exist. Their long-term fate is also currently unknown. Emerging research suggests that rapid physical, chemical, and biological weathering occurred when the oil was floating on the open waters; however, most of these weathering processes have slowed down considerably once the oil was buried. Recent laboratory studies have shown that several toxic chemicals such as PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), trapped in the oil spill residues are not weathering. In this presentation, I will present our current understanding of what are the knowns and known-to-be unknowns with regard to the current state of Alabama’s beaches in the aftermath of the DWH disaster. I will provide both observational field data and chemical characterization data collected by our team to discuss how the oil spill residues trapped near Alabama’s shoreline have evolved over the past 5 years. I will also summarize some useful lessons that we could learn from this natural field experiment.