Vertical distribution and probability of encountering intertidal Exxon Valdez oil on shorelines of three embayments within Prince William Sound, Alaska

Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Jun 15;40(12):3723-9. doi: 10.1021/es0601134.


We examined 32 shorelines selected at random in 2003 from shorelines in Herring Bay, Lower Pass, and Bay of Isles in Prince William Sound, Alaska, to examine the vertical distribution of oil remaining from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and to estimate the probability that sea otters and ducks would encounter oil while foraging there. On each shoreline, sampling was stratified by 1-m tide height intervals and randomly located 0.25 m2 sampling quadrats were examined for evidence of surface and subsurface oil. Oil from the T/V Exxon Valdezwasfound on 14 shorelines, mainly in Herring Bay and Lower Pass, with an estimated 0.43 ha covered by surface oil and 1.52 ha containing subsurface oil. Surface and subsurface oil were most prevalent near the middle of the intertidal and had nearly symmetrical distributions with respect to tide height. Hence, about half the oil is in the biologically rich lower intertidal, where predators may encounter it while disturbing sediments in search of prey. The overall probability of encountering surface or subsurface oil is estimated as 0.0048, which is only slightly greaterthan our estimated probability of encountering subsurface oil in the lower intertidal of Herring Bay or Lower Pass. These encounter probabilities are sufficient to ensure that sea otters and ducks that routinely excavate sediments while foraging within the intertidal would likely encounter subsurface oil repeatedly during the course of a year.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents*
  • Alaska
  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild / physiology
  • Ducks / physiology
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry*
  • Otters / physiology
  • Petroleum* / analysis
  • Probability
  • Water Movements*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis


  • Petroleum
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical