Oil Spills: A Guided Tour
5 - Making Response Decisions
The Incident Commander--the person in charge of the response--uses overflight observations, computer model predictions, shoreline and biological assessments, and other information from NOAA OR&R to make response decisions. For example, we use one of our computer models to predict how quickly the oil will weather--that is, how its physical properties, such as density and viscosity, will change over time. This is important to people who need to choose which remediation or cleanup procedures to apply, and when to apply them.
In the photo, above right, dispersant is being sprayed over spilled oil. Dispersants are chemicals that break oil into small droplets that decompose faster. But they don't work well if the oil is too viscous. We use our observations and model predictions to find out when conditions are most appropriate for applying dispersants.
Sometimes, we also can provide information that helps people decide what NOT to do during an oil spill response. For example, the results of studies performed by NOAA biologists on the effects of the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill suggest that under most circumstances, using hot-water washing to clean oiled beaches may do more harm than good.
In the photo, above left, a beach in Prince William Sound is being cleaned by hot water after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Our research suggests that by killing small plants and animals that have survived the oil spill, hot water cleaning sometimes may slow the recovery of the beach ecosystem.