During May 2001 Bureau coastal geologists James C. Gibeaut and Tiffany L. Hepner surveyed beaches in Prince William Sound (PWS), Alaska, for oil left from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Bureau is working with biologists and chemists from Auke Bay Laboratory of the National Marine Fisheries Service in a study funded by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (Council) to determine the amount of oil remaining on the beaches of PWS.

On board the motor vessel Auklet, Jim and Tiffany surveyed 23 sites, finding Exxon Valdez oil on all but 1 site. The oil commonly remains on gravel beaches either as an asphalt pavement on the surface or as more fluid oil in the subsurface. The researchers’ next step will be to analyze the trends of oil reduction and character through time and relate these trends to geomorphic and sedimentologic settings. Preliminary results of their survey indicate a reduction in the amount of oil found within the beaches.

This research is a follow-up to a study conducted by Jim in 1993 and published by the Council in 1998. The 1993 study, which involved more sites within PWS, serves as a significant point of reference for residual Exxon Valdez oil in the PWS intertidal zone.

Describing geomorphology and conducting transect surveys.
Surveying beaches using GPS.
Asphalt patch on gravel beach.
Fluid oil in subsurface of gravel beach.