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You are here: Home / SARP / SARP 2015 / 2015 Student Presentations / Whole Air Sampling / Investigating Sources of Air Pollution Over the Refugio Oil Spill

Investigating Sources of Air Pollution Over the Refugio Oil Spill

Bradley Garczynski, Dartmouth College

Abstract: Oil spills release harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere, which can lead to the formation of criteria pollutants such as ozone and secondary organic aerosols. Monitoring these pollutants is important in predicting long term negative effects on human health. The Refugio Oil Spill of May 2015 released 21,000 gallons of crude oil into the Santa Barbara Channel, and had a significant impact on coastal beaches and marine ecosystems. Using gas chromatography to quantify VOCs, we compared whole air samples collected over the Santa Barbara channel in June 2014 and June 2015. These samples were collected onboard the NASA DC-8 as part of the NASA Student Airborne Research Program (SARP). Our results showed that, relative to 2014, there were significant enhancements in low-altitude hydrocarbon mixing ratios in 2015 samples collected one month after the oil spill. Mixing ratios of carbon monoxide, ethyne, and various halocarbons were also elevated in 2015, suggesting a significant urban influence over the channel. Further investigation revealed the presence of a Catalina Eddy off the coast of Southern California during the 2015 flight that redirected polluted air from Los Angeles to the Santa Barbara Channel. This evidence was consistent with the calculated photochemical age of the sampled plume. Analysis of heavy hydrocarbons collected at very-low altitudes (~200-400 feet) over the Santa Barbara channel suggested a non-urban oil influence being emitted from the ocean. However, there was not enough evidence to conclude that this was a direct result of the oil spill rather than natural oil seeps or pre-existing infrastructure. This work suggests that the impact of the Refugio Oil Spill on the air quality of Santa Barbara was likely minimal at the time of this study.