Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sampling on Mustang Island (April 1, 2014)

Oil covered debris on the beach on the north end of
Mustang Island with a sample jar.
Driving on the beach is popular in Texas,
hence the tire tracks (Photo credit: Bob Swarthout).
Tracking spilled oil in the marine environment is a complex process involving intensive field monitoring and computer modeling. As the oil spilled in Galveston Bay washed out into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists and staff from the U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA used daily aerial observations and environmental and meteorological data to run computer models and predict where the oil would wash ashore. These models correctly predicted that much of this oil would travel south along the coast and wash ashore on Matagorda Island about 200 miles south of Galveston, which it did on March 27. But, because it is extremely difficult to track all of the oil from a spill, some of the oil from this spill also unexpectedly washed ashore days later on barrier islands to the south of Matagorda including Mustang Island.

We spent a day collecting oil samples along the beaches of northern Mustang Island. Beaches along the entire north end of the island were spotted with small clumps of oil covered debris along the high tide line. Comparing the chemical composition of oil samples from Mustang Island to that of samples from Galveston Bay will give us a perfect opportunity to examine the effects of different processes on oil weathering. And, the dispersed mature of the oil along the beach means that it will be difficult to remove all of the oil. We will certainly be back to collect more highly weathered samples in the coming weeks and months.
Oil spots scattered on the beach at Mustang Island (Photo credit: Bob Nelson)

More oil covered debris at Mustang Island (Photo credit: Bob Swarthout).

Posted by: 
Robert Nelson, Research Specialist
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution 

Bob Swarthout, Post-Doc
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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