Tarball (oil)

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A ball of tar about 1 cm (0 in) wide on sand above a 15 cm (6 in) scale
A tarball on a beach on the Galápagos Islands in 2001, from an oil spill from the tanker Jessica.
Tar balls from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are seen washed ashore on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, Florida on June 16, 2010.

A tarball is a blob of petroleum which has been weathered after floating in the ocean. Tarballs are an aquatic pollutant in most environments, although they can occur naturally and as such are not always associated with oil spills.[1][2][3]

Tarball concentration and features have been used to assess the extent of oil spills and their composition can also be used to identify their sources of origin.[4][5] They are slowly decomposed by microorganisms such as Chromobacterium violaceum, Cladosporium resinae, Bacillus submarinus, Micrococcus varians, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Candida marina, and Saccharomyces estuari.[1]

Tarballs may be dispersed over long distances by deep sea currents.[2] The density of tarballs depends on the solids picked up in the weathering process.[6] They can range in density with some being more dense than seawater, which, at 1.025 g/ml, is more dense than the density of fresh water. When the tarballs are less dense than seawater, they can travel over great distances.

They can also be contained like oil and picked up using a variety of methods. Containment booms can be used to isolate tarballs similar to methods used to isolate oil.[7]


  1. ^ a b A. Y. Itah and J. P. Essien, "Growth Profile and Hydrocarbonoclastic Potential of Microorganisms Isolated from Tarballs in the Bight of Bonny, Nigeria", World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, Volume 21, Numbers 6-7, October, 2005, doi:10.1007/s11274-004-6694-z, pp. 1317-1322
  2. ^ a b Frances D. Hostettler, Robert J. Rosenbauer, Thomas D. Lorenson, Jennifer Dougherty, Geochemical characterization of tarballs on beaches along the California coast. Part I-- Shallow seepage impacting the Santa Barbara Channel Islands, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel, Organic Geochemistry, Volume 35, Issue 6, June 2004, Pages 725-746, ISSN 0146-6380, doi:10.1016/j.orggeochem.2004.01.022. [1]
  3. ^ "Lorenson, T. D., Hostettler, F. D., Rosenbauer, R. J., Peters, K. E., Kvenvolden, K. A., Dougherty, J. A., Gutmacher, C. E., Wong, F. L., and Normark, W. R., 2009, "Natural offshore seepage and related tarball accumulation on the California coastline"; Santa Barbara Channel and the southern Santa Maria Basin; source identification and inventory: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009-1225 and Minerals Management Service report 2009-030, 116 p. and spreadsheets". Pubs.usgs.gov. Retrieved 2010-06-03. 
  4. ^ Anthony H. Knap, Kathryn A. Burns, Rodger Dawson, Manfred Ehrhardt and Karsten H. Palmork, "Dissolved/dispersed hydrocarbons, tarballs and the surface microlayer: Experiences from an IOC/UNEP Workshop in Bermuda", December 1984, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 17, Issue 7, July 1986, Pages 313-319. doi:10.1016/0025-326X(86)90217-1
  5. ^ Zhendi Wang, Merv Fingas, Michael Landriault, Lise Sigouin, Bill Castle, David Hostetter, Dachung Zhang, Brad Spencer, Identification and Linkage of Tarballs from the Coasts of Vancouver Island and Northern California Using GC/MS and Isotopic Techniques, Journal of High Resolution Chromatography, Volume 21 Issue 7, pp. 383-395, doi:10.1002/(SICI)1521-4168(19980701)21:7<383::AID-JHRC383>3.0.CO;2-3
  6. ^ R. Goodman, "Tar Balls: The End State", Spill Science & Technology Bulletin, Volume 8, Issue 2, April 2003, pp. 117-121.
  7. ^ J. Fang and K. V. Wong, "An Advanced VOF Algorithm for Oil Boom Design", International Journal Modelling and Simulation, Vol. 26, No. 1, Jan 2006, p. 36-44, Volume 8, Issue 2, April 2003, pp. 117-121

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