People are responsible for over 90% of the world’s oil slicks

Research: Humans are responsible for over 90% of the world's oil slicks

The Taylor Energy platform, about 10 miles off the coast of Louisiana, was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and immediately began leaking oil. Oil slicks, such as this 2013 photo, were often visible above the site until a security system was installed in 2019. Credit: Ian MacDonald

A team of American and Chinese scientists who mapped oil pollution in the Earth’s oceans found that more than 90% of chronic oil slicks come from human sources, a much higher share than previously calculated.

Their study, published in science, is a major update from previous investigations of the marine world oil pollutionwhich estimated that about half come from human sources and half from natural sources.

“What is convincing in these results is how often we find these floating oil slicks – from small leaks, from ships, from pipelines, from natural sources such as seepage into the bottom of the ocean and then also from areas where industry or the public produce runoff that contains floating oil, ”said Ian MacDonald, a professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University and co-author of the article.

Oil slicks are microscopically thin layers of oil on the surface of the ocean. Massive oil spills can cause them, but they are also produced extensively and continuously by human activities and natural sources.

These short-lived oil slicks are constantly moving by wind and currents as the waves break them, making investigations a challenge. To find and analyze them, the research team used artificial intelligence to study more than 560,000 satellite radar images collected between 2014 and 2019. This allowed them to determine the location, extent and probable sources of chronic oil pollution.







Oil slick leaking from a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2012. Credit: Ian MacDonald

Even a minimal amount of oil can have a major impact on the plankton that forms the basis of the ocean’s food system. Something else sea ​​creaturessuch as whales and sea ​​turtlesare damaged when in contact with oil while rising to breathe.

“Satellite technology offers a way to better monitor ocean pollution with oil, especially in waters where human supervision is difficult,” said Yongxue Liu, a professor at Nanjing University’s School of Geography and Oceanography and co-author. “The global picture can help focus regulation and enforcement to reduce oil pollution.

The effectiveness of satellite imagery offers a potential solution. Researchers have found most of the oil slicks near the shoreline. About half of the oil slicks were within 25 miles of the coast, and 90% were within 100 miles. Researchers have found relatively fewer oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico than elsewhere on the globe, suggesting that government regulation and the application as well as compliance by US oil rig operators in US waters reduce leakage.







An oil slick formed on the surface of the ocean after a leak from a pipeline in the northern Gulf of Mexico in 2016. Credit: Ian MacDonald

“If we can take these lessons and apply them in places around the world where we are witnessing a high concentration of oil stainswe could improve the situation, “MacDonald said.

Professor Yangzhou Dong of Nanjing University is the lead author of the study. Other co-authors include Yingcheng Lu of Nanjing University and Chuanmin Hu of the University of South Florida.


Ocean surface spots are pelagic nurseries for various fish


More info:
Yanzhu Dong et al, Chronic Fat in the Global Oceans, science (2022). DOI: 10.1126 / science.abm5940. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abm5940

Quote: Study: People responsible for over 90% of the world’s oil slicks (2022, June 16), retrieved on June 17, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-humans-responsible-world -oil-slicks.html

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