Oil spills occur when petroleum products are uncontrollably released into the environment, usually by pipelines, drilling rigs or other vehicles and vessels. Since oil and water cannot be mixed, the oil floats on top of the water’s surface. This top layer is called an oil slick, and it spreads across the water’s surface quickly. Eventually, the slick thins and then becomes what is called oil sheen. As time goes on, oil that is not cleaned out of the water takes the form of “surface residual balls,” or “SRBs.” SRBs are conglomerates of sand and oil, and the newly developed computer model is able to track their movements.
"The techniques developed here can be applied to evaluate the potential alongshore movement of SRBs in other locations or from any future spill where large quantities of oil and sand mix in the surf zone,” said P. Soupy Dalyander, a research oceanographer.