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A Review of Numerical Models for Oil Penetration, Retention, and Attenuation on Shorelines

E. Taylor1 *, E. H. Owens2, K. Lee3, C. J. An4, and Z. Chen4

  1. Polaris Applied Sciences, Inc., 755 Winslow Way East #302, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110, USA
  2. OCC Ltd., 755 Winslow Way East #205, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110, USA
  3. Ecosystem Science, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa, ON K1A 0E6, Canada
  4. Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8, Canada

*Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 206 780 0860. E-mail address: (E. Taylor).


Oil spills that reach shorelines greatly increase risks to coastal resources. Understanding how long oil is likely to remain on a shoreline is important in deciding response priorities, areas to clean, and the degree of intervention recommended. Wave action, tides, and currents can relocate oil laterally along the beach, cause oil to penetrate vertically into the sediments, and remove oil from the shoreline. Physico-chemical processes transfer some hydrocarbons to the atmosphere and to the adjacent water column resulting in diminished oil on the shoreline. Oil dispersion, through formation of oil-particulate aggregates, and microbial degradation processes can break down a large fraction of the residual oil remaining on and within shorelines. A comprehensive review of the scientific literature reveals that although there are many models that describe and predict oil transport, behavior, and fate in the sea, few numerical models have been developed for oil stranded on shorelines. Canada’s Multi-Partner Research Initiative Program aims to develop a model-based “Decision Support Tool†that can predict the rates of oil loss that can be achieved from natural attenuation processes and the application of active spill response strategies. This model is built on the understanding of factors controlling: penetration, holding capacity, retention, and the residual capacity (persistence) of oil stranded on shorelines derived from the results of case histories, laboratory, meso-scale tests and field trials. Output from the model is intended to support spill response decision-making by allowing spill responders and the public to visualize the results achieved by natural attenuation versus remedial strategies.

Keywords: oiled shorelines, modeling, oil removal, oil translocation, oil attenuation

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