How Oil Spills Affect the Climate

Oil spills are a form of pollution when liquid petroleum hydrocarbon—also known as LPG—is released anywhere the oil is drilled, transported, or used. They are classified as a disaster and are detrimental to the environment and animal habitats. Unfortunately, this disaster is mostly human-caused.


One of the most obvious and detrimental parts of oil spills is their effect on marine animals and birds. Many young sea turtles mistake oil for food which results in poisoning and death. Mammal marine animals can inhale the oil and severely harm their lungs. Numerous birds and animals also accidentally intake oil to cleaning themselves, like they do with water, and get poisoned. Another effect of oil spills on marine animals is that oil destroys the natural abilities of birds and fur-bearing animals. Most birds’ feathers are covered in healthy oils to be water repellent and fur-bearing animals like sea otters have an insulating ability to keep

their skin dry and body warm. However, since oil demolishes these special features, the animals often die from hypothermia. For fish, they mostly come into contact with the oil when it's mixed with water leading their immune system to weaken. They experience enlarged livers, effects on their heart, poor respiration rates, and more. Birds also can get stuck on the oil as well.


When thinking about oil spills, many imagine them happening in the water. Yet, an oil spill can occur on land too and affect the soil. Oil spills on land harm soil microorganisms that work to keep the soil healthy and nutritious for plant life. Some oil types can be very thick which clogs the soil and restricts water absorption and oxygen to enter. In that scenario, there is a risk of drought. When it comes to plants, most of the time drown because of being more fragile compared to oil and being unable to perform photosynthesis. For a plant to perform photosynthesis, it needs sunlight and water. However, most of the time, the oil blocks the sunlight from the plant and restrains the soil to absorb water. In the end, the plant dies. Most oil is less dense than water which means it floats on the water when a spill occurs. But, in other cases, there is also a chance of the oil leaching into the groundwater table.


Oftentimes the environment can recover from an oil spill after a couple of years but when the spill is large, the damage still can be visible even after decades. Fortunately, an ecosystem can heal itself after an oil spill with its decomposers, fungi, and bacteria. With fertilizer and energy ( keeping the area warm), these decomposers can break down oil and gas. However, it is best for the spill to be cleaned up quickly to

not make further damage to the environment. This is when humans are expected to make the process more efficient and shorter without harming the ecosystem even more. By slowly and consistently adding bacteria to degrade the oil, we can speed up the process and the area can go back to normal faster. To clean up a spill in the sea, professionals use machines like skimmers, sweepers, and skirted sorbent booms. However, as said in the beginning, we can not expect the contaminated area to go back to normal immediately. The environment needs to recover the contaminated space and also increase the rate of the microorganisms and species that once lived in the area. Another way of cleaning oil spills on water is by burning the oil. Professionals carefully burn the oil to reduce the amount of oil on the water as much they can. But it also is detrimental since it burns off plant life and leaves a residue as well as emitting CO2 into the atmosphere which aggravates climate change even more.


Oil spills not only affect the water, land, and animals, but they also are harmful to us humans as well. One of the best examples of this can be the number of greenhouse gases that are being released just because of oil drilling. Oil spills are one solitary reason why we should decrease our oil usage and start investing more in renewable energy.


Sources:

https://www.treehugger.com/environmental-consequences-of-oil-spills-1204088

https://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/18/science/earth/18enviro.html

https://theconversation.com/nature-can-heal-itself-after-an-oil-spill-it-just-needs-a-little-help-98054

https://sciencing.com/effects-oil-spills-5134989.html

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/oilimpacts.html#:~:text=Oil%20spills%20are%20harmful%20to,well%20as%20fish%20and%20shellfish.&text=Oil%20destroys%20the%20insulating%20ability,creatures%20to%20the%20harsh%20elements.

https://response.restoration.noaa.gov/oil-and-chemical-spills/oil-spills/how-oil-harms-animals-and-plants-marine-environments.html

https://www.soils.org/about-soils/contaminants/petroleum

https://response.restoration.noaa.gov/oil-and-chemical-spills/oil-spills/resources/in-situ-burning.html

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