Mysterious Oil Spill Spreads Along 11 Miles of Delaware Beach
Environmental officials and members of the U.S. Coast Guard are racing to clean up a mysterious oil spill that has spread to 11 miles of Delaware coastline.
When the spill was first discovered Monday, it covered only three-fourths of a mile along Broadkill Beach, Delaware Now reported. However, the tides have extended the reach of the oil every day, spreading it along seven miles of Delaware Bay coastline by Tuesday and 11 by Wednesday.
"We are focused on cleanup operations and getting the oil off our beaches and out of our coastal communities as quickly as possible," Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Secretary Shawn Garvin said in a Wednesday press release. "Expediency is key. We want to capture as much of the oil as we can before it disperses further and causes more environmental harm."
DNREC is working under unified command with the U.S. Coast Guard to clean the spill, which now extends from Fowler Beach, which borders the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, to Cape Henlopen State Park. It was estimated initially that more than 215 gallons of oil had spilled, but the actual amount may be larger, CBS Philly reported.
The oil line from the spill now extends approximately 11 miles from Fowler Beach bordering Prime Hook National Wild… https://t.co/c4TfENSvGw— DNREC (@DNREC)1603230999.0
As of Tuesday, recovery efforts had removed around two tons of oily sand and debris, according to DNREC. There are currently more than 75 contractors, DNREC workers and Coast Guard members responding to the spill.
Approximately two tons of oily sand and debris was removed from the affected areas as of 7 p.m., Tuesday. https://t.co/bdCxr8ZNda— DNREC (@DNREC)1603311582.0
The spill has mostly taken the form of oil patties that range in size from a quarter to a manhole cover, the Coast Guard said Tuesday.
Cape Henlopen park watch volunteer Julie McCall got a first-hand view of the strange black blobs when she was conducting a bird count on Beach Plum Island Monday.
"On the way back, after the tide had gone out quite a bit, I started seeing these bigger patches, and I thought, 'That looks like oil,'" McCall told WHYY. "Some were bigger than my foot."
The Coast Guard said it would use the blobs to try and determine the source of the spill.
"Working with our partners at DNREC and state agencies, we will continue to monitor the future potential to the Broadkill Beach area, continue cleanup operations and conduct an investigation to try and determine the source," Capt. Jonathan Theel, the commanding officer of Sector Delaware Bay, said in a press release.
However, officials think the oil is probably heavy fuel oil that leaked from a vessel, WHYY reported.
McCall said she was worried about how the oil would impact people and animals.
"It's very scary," she told WHYY. "Of course, we're always concerned about the marine animals, and any kind of toxic material in the water. I'm also concerned about birds, any kind of wildlife. A lot of people fish at Beach Plum Island and people walk their dogs and there are kids on the beach. So I'm concerned about exposure to people and animals."
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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