Oil along the coastline. Photograph: © SAF – Coastal Care.
Late last week coastal geologist Rip Kirby (University of South Florida) was on the seashore as part of an effort to detect oil by shining UV lights, widely used to spot vital fluid at crime scenes, on Gulf beaches. The method, he hopes, will allow scientists and cleanup crews to tackle hard-to-spot oil, such as crude mixed with mud or light stains on sand, that’s washed ashore from the sinking of the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig.
Under UV light, clean sand appears purple or black. Some minerals, such as calcium carbonate in seashells, glow blue, as does a shovel handle in the picture above. Tar from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill lights up orange-yellow on the beaches.
Although hydrocarbons have long been known to fluoresce, or glow, under ultraviolet light, this may be the first time the technology has been used outside a lab to spot oil…