hicles, including boats). The ultimate fates of oil in the sea depend on the amount and rate of discharge, composition, source, and environmental setting and persistence.
The effect of petroleum hydrocarbon is not directly related to the volume released. It is instead a complex function of the rate of release, the nature of the released hydrocarbon, and the local physical and biological ecosystem. Some progress has been made in understanding the basic processes affecting fates such as evaporation. Much more needs to be learned about oil-sediment interaction, vertical dispersion and entrainment, dissolution, Langmuir cells, and hydrate formation (as related to deep subsurface releases of gas). Furthermore, the priorities for research into petroleum hydrocarbon fate and transport have historically been driven by large spills. Thus, resource allocation to support these efforts tends to wane in periods during which a large spill has not recently occurred. Federal agencies, especially NOAA, MMS, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the USGS, should work with industry to develop and support a systematic and sustained research effort to further basic understanding of the processes that govern the fate and transport of petroleum hydrocarbons released into the marine environment from a variety of sources (not just spills).
Response plans depend heavily on site-specific modeling predictions of the behavior of spills of various sizes and types, under a variety of environmental conditions. There is a need for both better baseline data, including ambient background levels of hydrocarbons in the sea, and better data for calibrating fate and behavior models. Because experimental release of petroleum is not feasible under most circumstances, comprehensive data on the fate of the oil must be collected during spills. Such efforts are generally neglected, because moving needed equipment and personnel to spill sites to collect data naturally is of lower priority than containing the spill and minimizing damage to the environment and property. Federal agencies, especially the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA, and EPA should work with industry to develop a more comprehensive database of environmental information and ambient hydrocarbon levels, and should develop and implement a rapid response system to collect in situ information about spill behavior and impacts.
Natural seep systems and sites of historical spills offer good opportunities for field studies of the fate and effect of the release of crude oil and (in the case of spills) refined products, especially to understand dissolution and long-term weathering. Federal agencies, especially the USGS, NOAA, EPA, and MMS, should develop and support targeted research into the fate and behavior of hydrocarbons released to the environment naturally through seeps or past spills.