When disaster strikes: the science of oil spills

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News @ CSIRO

Penguins in jumpers Haute couture with beaks.

By Alice Trend & Kirsten Lea

Recently there was a call out to people to knit little woolly jumpers for penguins. These little guys were covered in oil and the jumpers were to help keep them warm and stop them from trying to clean toxic oil off their bodies with their beaks.

Cute penguin fashion aside, there is a much broader science-based response to oil spills.

In the event of an oil spill the primary goal of any response operation is to minimise harm to people and the environment.

Oil spill effect on marine life The harrowing effects of an oil spill on marine life. Image: Flickr / Marine Photobank

To do this, in addition to monitoring and letting the contaminated site recover on its own, there are three main oil spill countermeasure techniques used: mechanical recovery, for example capturing the spreading oil on booms and pumping oil back into barrels…

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