Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2013AK117B

Simulating the effect of wave action on fate of crude oil spilled at Alaskan shores

Institute: Alaska
Year Established: 2013 Start Date: 2013-03-01 End Date: 2014-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $16,317 Total Non-Federal Funds: $3,943

Principal Investigators: Silke Schiewer

Abstract: Off-shore oil production along Alaskan coasts is expected to increase in coming decades. Low temperatures as present during most of the year in Alaska affect the physical properties (e.g. viscosity) as well as biodegradability of crude oil. If an oil spill occurs off shore, some crude oil may be washed to the shore and oil the shoreline. It is common practice after such spills to enhance microbial degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons by nutrient addition after preliminary spill clean-up by mechanical means, as has been done for the Exxon Valdez oil spill. However, the efficiency of nutrient addition may be reduced due to wash out resulting from tidal and wave action. Similarly, flushing has an impact on the transport of hydrocarbons both within the soil/sediment matrix and into the sea. This important aspect has not received much scientific attention. The proposed research plans to close this information gap by investigating the fate of nutrients and crude oil in a laboratory setting using a wave simulation tank. Parameters varied include the dosage and type of fertilizer added, soil matrix and intensity of wave action. By measuring concentrations of fertilizer, hydrocarbons and describing the observed results with mathematical models, the interrelation of transport of contaminant and nutrients, hydrocarbon biodegradation and nutrient consumption and biomass growth will be described. This will contribute to a better understanding of processes occurring in a shore environment after a spill occurs and aid in developing remediation strategies if such a spill occurs in the future.