Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Exxon Valdez oil spill impacts lasting far longer than expected, scientists say

19.12.2003


Assuming that oil spills such as the one that devastated Alaska’s Prince William Sound almost 15 years ago and other toxic insults to the environment have only short-term impacts on coastal marine ecosystems has been a big mistake, a new study shows.



Oil’s negative effects last far longer, scientists now say, and the findings should be a wake-up call for better environmental research and protection.

The study, conducted by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher and colleagues, involved synthesizing results of numerous more specialized but revealing investigations of the Alaskan disaster’s impact on various plant and animal species.


"These simply astounding findings have extremely important implications for environmental management," said principal investigator Dr. Charles H. Peterson, Alumni Distinguished professor of marine sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "They show the environmental consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill went far beyond the more than 250,000 seabirds, thousands of marine mammals and countless numbers of other coastal marine organisms killed in the first days, weeks and months."

A report on the work appears in the Dec. 19 issue of the journal Science.

Besides Peterson, authors are Drs. Stanley D. Rice and Jeffrey W. Short of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Auke Bay Laboratory at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Juneau; Dr. Daniel Esler of Canada’s Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.; Drs. James L. Bodkin and Brenda E. Ballachey of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center in Anchorage; and Dr. David B. Irons of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage.

"Studies we reviewed and synthesized showed that oil has persisted in surprisingly large quantities for years after the Exxon Valdez spill in subsurface reservoirs under course intertidal sediments," Peterson said. "This oil was sequestered in conditions where weathering by wave action, light and bacteria was inhibited, and toxicity remained for a decade or more."

As a result, many species suffered long-term loss, he said. For example, chronic exposure to the oil in mouths of streams boosted mortality among incubating pink salmon eggs for at least four years after the spill.

"Higher mortality was induced by concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons of only a few parts per billion," Peterson said. "These results require a complete reconsideration of the foundations of ecological risk assessment and ecotoxicology because acute mortality from oil involves concentrations perhaps 1,000 times greater. Earlier experiments incorrectly implied that lower oil concentrations were safe, which the new work clearly showed was not true."

Beyond their acute losses, marine mammals and sea ducks suffered high mortality for years after the accident in part because they ate invertebrates contaminated by the hidden oil and also contacted oil directly while digging up prey. Species as diverse as sea otters, harlequin ducks and killer whales suffered large, long-term losses. Oiled mussel beds and other tidal shoreline habitats will take an estimated 30 years to recover.

"Long-term declines also were observed in pink salmon as sublethal effects of oil exposure early in their life history led to stunted growth and indirect increases in mortality while they were in the ocean phase of their lives," he said.

Peterson said studies of the Exxon Valdez oil spill should lead to a new understanding of how lingering oil deposits affect species over many years, how sublethal, chronic doses compromise health, growth and reproduction and how impaired species interact negatively with one another in "cascade" fashion.

"Recognition that chronic exposures of fish eggs to oil concentrations as low as a few parts per billion lead indirectly to higher mortality shows the critical need to better control stormwater runoff of petroleum hydrocarbons and other toxins," he said. "In a developed country like the United States, an amount of petroleum equal to the Exxon Valdez oil spill is spilled annually for every 50 million people."

Revising and enforcing water quality standards and stormwater rules can help restore fisheries production lost to pollution, the scientist said.


Peterson works at the Institute of Marine Sciences, a part of UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences located in Morehead City, N.C.

Note: Peterson can be reached at (252) 726-6841, Ext. 130 or cpeters@email.unc.edu

David Williamson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.unc.edu/

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht A new indicator for marine ecosystem changes: the diatom/dinoflagellate index
21.08.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

nachricht Value from wastewater
16.08.2017 | Hochschule Landshut

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nagoya physicists resolve long-standing mystery of structure-less transition

21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

Chronic stress induces fatal organ dysfunctions via a new neural circuit

21.08.2017 | Health and Medicine

Scientists from the MSU studied new liquid-crystalline photochrom

21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>