These breakthroughs could save our Oceans from harmful Oil Spills

Coast guard platform supply vessels fight the fire of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.US Coast Guard

In the past 50 years, the United States has seen at the very least 44 oil incidents within U.S. waters. Innovative approaches to responding are vital to prevent the same damage from the ocean, such as that caused by Deepwater Horizon.

Coast guard platforms supply vessels fight the flame caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.US Coast Guard.

On April 20 in 2010, an explosion that occurred on the Deepwater Horizon caused the oil rig to sink in the Gulf of Mexico, leaking more than 3 million barrels worth of crude oil over four months. The spill along the coast of Mississippi was the biggest one in United States history, and seven years after seven years later, the National Resource Damage Assessment ( NRDA) is still trying to determine the severity of its pollution.

In the past 50 years, at least 44 oil spills have amounted to over 10,000 barrels of oil in U.S. waters. Innovative solutions are vital to prevent similar damages to the ocean as Deepwater Horizon.

The Coast Guard, responsible for overseeing the emergency response in these situations, employs three primary methods to remove spilled oil, including dispersion, burning, and skimming in situations.

These methods are intended to eliminate oil from the water's surface, but they fail when they fail to do so if the oil sinks. They could also damage the environment and wildlife, making effective detection and quick action crucial in the cleanup phase. However, new techniques in the development may make cleanup less expensive, more efficient, and less time-consuming for teams of emergency responders.

Early Detection

Scientists at Universidade de Vigo in Spain are working on integrating buoys in a network with tiny sensors that allow them to monitor remote areas of the coastline. These buoys allow scientists to quickly detect oil that enters their vicinity and relay the data back to their team through a transmitter.

"Fast detection of an oil spill is vital for an effective anti-pollution reaction to prevent, as much as possible, the slow mixing of the oil in the water making cleaning challenging and inefficient," Jose R. Salgueiro, who is the leader of the team conducting research stated in an announcement. "Also, knowing the oil kind allows for an appropriate reaction to combat pollutant pollution."

In this regard, the buoys' light sensors employ four detectors using photodiodes to capture distinct signals and figure out the type of oil within the waters.

The spreading of oil released from the Deepwater Horizon as of May 24, 2010, was captured using NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer located on the Terra satellite. Salgueiro's invention is affordable to manufacture and can be placed inside a buoy and later put in the ocean to monitor specific zones indefinitely. By establishing an array of buoys, scientists could track the distribution of spills at a moment's notice as sensors located in various areas detect their presence in oil. Respondents could focus their cleanup efforts more quickly and with greater precision without relying on expensive aircraft surveillance to locate the spilled oil.

Cleaning Up

The detection of the spreading in an oil spill is not enough unless the oil is quickly removed off the surface. However, the cleaning methods often employed in Coast Guard personnel Coast Guard today can't save the oil for use in the future. Therefore, spills are harmful to the environment as well as consume valuable resources.

Seth Darling and a team at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois have developed the system of huge sponges that can be pulled across the slick of oil on the water's surface. The sponges comprise the polyurethane foam coated in silane, soak up the oil and then safely remove it off the water's surface. They can then be rinsed out and reused up to 100 times.

Darling's group calculated the silane needed to make the chemical balance that is appealing sufficient to absorb oil molecules from the water, but not too powerful that it can't let loose the molecules trapped under the proper conditions in the future.


When they were dragged along a crude oil pipe in lab tests, The sponges were able to soak up more than 90 percent of their weight of oil before being put through the press. They were reused multiple times without losing effectiveness, establishing their position as a viable alternative to remove the debris after spills.

"In the ideal world, you'd have stored collections of this polyurea and spray foam at the point where offshore operations are... prepared to go when a spill occurs," Darling recently told New Scientist.

The latest technologies to accelerate the response could stop the damage to the coastline and wildlife and halt the loss of essential resources. But there are many unanswered questions. Further testing is required to determine the size of an area floating sensors will cover or how best to deploy the sponge that absorbs water using existing available resources.

It's likely to take time before any of these can be implemented on a mass scale. These innovations have the potential to save our oceans. 

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