Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The distribution of lingering subsurface oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill

December 31, 2012

This study used field data and a suite of geospatial models to identify areas where subsurface oil is likely to still be present on the shorelines of Prince William Sound (PWS) and the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, as well as the factors related to continued presence of such oil. The goal was to identify factors and accompanying models that could serve as screening tools to prioritize shorelines for different remediation methods. The models were based on data collected at 314 shoreline segments surveyed between 2001 and 2007. These field data allowed us to identify a number of geomorphologic and hydrologic factors that have contributed to the persistence of subsurface oil within PWS and GOA two decades after the spill. Because synoptic data layers for describing each of these factors at all locations were not available, the models developed used existing data sets as surrogates to represent these factors, such as distance to a stream mouth or shoreline convexity. While the linkages between the data used and the physical phenomena that drive persistence are not clearly understood in all cases, the performance of these models was remarkably good. The models simultaneously evaluate all identified variables to predict the presence of different types of subsurface oiling in a rigorous, unbiased manner. The refined model results suggest there are a limited but significant number of as-yet unsurveyed locations in the study area that are likely to contain subsurface oil. Furthermore, the model results may be used to quantitatively prioritize shoreline for investigation with known uncertainty.

Citation Information

Title The distribution of lingering subsurface oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill
DOI 10.7901/2169-3358-2011-1-27
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70046679
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse