Gulf Tar Balls May Lurk Beneath the Sands

Oil Boom along the Gulf
TAMPA (2010-06-24) -

As oil continues to coat beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, a new study paints a grim outlook for the sugary sands to return to their pristine condition soon. Those tar balls are sinking below the beach.

The familiar images of white-clad workers scooping tar balls off the sand may not be as comforting a thought to beachgoers as they might have thought. A new study by University of South Florida researcher Ping Wang says the oil is sinking quickly through the sand. He studied several beaches in Alabama and Florida, and says after cleanups by hand, as much as 40 percent of the sand was still contaminated.

And now, not just tarballs - but sheets of oil are coming ashore.

"What we're observing now is a big layer of oil that gets buried into the sand - deeply, very quickly - in one or two tidal cycles," says Wang.

That leaves automated cleanups as the solution. But Wang says during his time on the beaches, he hasn't seen one mechanical cleaner.

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