- News Home
24 April 2014 11:45 am ,
Vol. 344 ,
Major climate data sets have underestimated the rate of global warming in the last 15 years owing largely to poor data...
The tsetse fly is best known as the vector for the trypanosome parasites that cause sleeping sickness and a disease in...
The National Institutes of Health is revising its "two strikes" rule, which allowed researchers only one chance to...
By stabilizing the components of retromers, molecular complexes that act like recycling bins in cells, a recently...
Fossil fuels power modern society by generating heat, but much of that heat is wasted. Semiconductor devices called...
Researchers are gaining insights into what made Supertyphoon Haiyan so powerful and devastating through post-storm...
Millions around the world got a first-hand look at what it was like to be in Tacloban while it was pummeled by...
- 24 April 2014 11:45 am , Vol. 344 , #6182
- About Us
As Oil Becomes 'Mousse' Then 'Tarballs,' Chemistry Could Determine Coast's Fate
3 May 2010 6:17 pm
The Deepwater Horizon disaster is no Exxon Valdez, says marine chemist Edward Overton. Instead of a "black tide" of crude oil flushing into marshlands, Overton is looking for mostly "tarballs" to invade the Gulf Coast's beaches and marshes.
Between the leaking wellhead—which is 1500 meters down on the sea floor, 65 kilometers out in the Gulf—and the coast, the oil is transforming. It first forms a foamy "mousse" that quickly loses its more volatile, more toxic components. That looks like roof tar, says Overton, professor emeritus at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, and a chemical hazard assessment contractor for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "It's getting less toxic, but it's staying sticky."
By the time the spill reaches the coast, it's likely to be mostly tarballs and tar mats that are more likely to kill plants and animals by sticking to them than by outright toxicity, Overton says. "Mother Nature is helping us because we're dealing with a sticky material that won't cover large areas." Still, "we've never had a spill of this magnitude on a marshland coast. It's hard to tell what the biggest impact will be."
For more on the gulf oil spill, see our full coverage.