- News Home
17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
- 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.