SEP 25, 2018 12:54 AM PDT

What Happens to Oceans and Lakes During an Oil Spill?


When a large scale oil spill occurs such as those in Alaska or off of the Gulf Coast, the oil clean-up is an overwhelming task. The oil affects every aspect of life in the water and the water itself.

Here is an explanation of how and why oil spreads over water so quickly and reaches so far. It is common knowledge that oil and water don't mix. However, the negative heads of oil molecules are attracted to the positive charge of water molecules. This molecular attraction at the level of each individual molecule causes the oil to spread out on top of the water in a layer that is only one molecule thick so each oil molecule can reach the positive charges of the water.

Oil spills also move and can calm waves and ripples on lakes and oceans. In fact, throughout history, sailors used to use extra oil on their ships to calm the waves for smooth sailing. Instead of catching the water molecules on the surface, the wind catches the oil layer that slides across the water. The issue here is that in oil spills, the wind can carry the oil layer across the ocean and spread the spill and its affects far beyond the original incident.
About the Author
  • I love all things science and am passionate about bringing science to the public through writing. With an M.S. in Genetics and experience in cancer research, marketing and technical writing, it is a pleasure to share the latest trends and findings in science on LabRoots.
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