To figure out the best way to clean up oil spills, scientists are spending their days at the pool. At Battelle Ocean Sciences Laboratory in Duxbury, Mass., they are building a doughnut-shaped tank with a 29-foot circumference, complete with artificial beaches to measure the effect of wind, temperature, waves, and currents on various grades of oil and oil products. For example, heavy crude oil from Alaska will behave differently than lighter Middle East oil.
Data gleaned from the tank tests, as well as from lab tests and actual spills, will go into an oil-weathering database. Eventually, data from a future oil spill could be plugged into a computer program to indicate within minutes the best cleanup solution: burning, chemical treatment, or physical cleanup. A basic computer model and testing methods were developed by IKU Petroleum Research in Norway, a division of the SINTEF group, a research organization much like Battelle. The Marine Spill Response Corp., a Washington (D.C.) nonprofit organization funded by the oil industry, contracted Battelle to build the tank and use IKU's technology to collect data.