Linking beach tar with sources in a complex natural marine seepage area presents numerous challenges. Efforts at Coal Oil Point (COP), CA included beach tar distribution surveys, oil slick tracking, sampling, and chemical analysis, underwater scuba surveys, aerial surveys, and numerical modeling. Despite a wind from the east and current to the west, a slick was tracked initially north from its source, presumably due to spreading, then it drifted east, ending in a kelp bed off COP. Sample chromatograms showed mixing with another oil slick by the appearance of a heavier series of n-alkane peaks where the trajectory changed direction. Trajectory simulations suggested that interface currents were poorly described by parameterizations of wind and surface currents, and/or the existence of small-scale circulations not resolved by CODAR or the drift buoy.

Detailed tar accumulation surveys covered 175-m (4400 m2) of COP beach where tar accumulation generally is greatest. Maximum total beach tar observed was 1.5 kg, with significant variability. Modeling suggested a similar source location for the three analyzed surveys. Analysis also suggested kelp canopies can play a significant roll in the arrival time and location of beach tar by blocking onshore transport. However, wind, current, and kelp conditions were such that much of the variability in tar accumulation for these surveys probably was from source emission variability.

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