Project GOO Recruits Students To Help Dig Up Gulf Oil Spill Evidence

Beach lovers and tourism officials have a burning desire for every trace — every tiny tar ball, tar mat or oil-covered seashell — of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster to vanish from our otherwise pristine beaches.

The quicker the gooey invaders disappear, the better.

(From / by Kimberly Blair) — Yet a team of scientists from an internationally known research group is not so eager for them to fade away so quickly. They say these lingering remains of the spill are priceless evidence for valuable research on how Mother Nature’s forces — wind, surf, sun, tides, weather and time — combat an invader.

The scientists will look to mine them from our beaches for years to come as they write the story of what happened to the oil from the Macondo well blowout on April 20, 2010, which spewed 210 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a story they’re teaching to a group of local youths recruited and trained to join the mission. The students helped comb local beaches for samples.

“These are the last clues of an iconic and unusual oil spill,” said Christopher Reddy, senior marine chemistry scientist for Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“Don’t get me wrong. I would be perfectly happy if I didn’t find a sample tomorrow,” he said. “If I can still find some oil down there on the Gulf Coast, I’ll be able to continue to tell the story.”

Reddy was in Pensacola with fellow scientists from the Florida State University-based Deep-C Consortium collecting tar patties recently in the third year of puzzling out the long-term fate and effects of the crude oil and its toxic compounds called petroleum hydrocarbons — benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylenes.

“Where does it go? How does it end up on the beach? And how does it affect the ecology?” said Eric Chassignet, director of Deep-C, which includes 10 universities and institutions conducting oil spill research.

The patties — comprised of about 10 to 15 percent weathered oil and 80 to 85 percent sand — can reveal many clues about these questions, Chassignet said.

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