Public Release: 

Go For The Burn

Office of Naval Research

The Feb. 4 grounding of the 639-foot oil freighter off Coos Bay, Ore., presented officials with an interesting dilemma: risk an approaching storm that would push the New Carissa even further onshore, spilling its 400,000 gallons of oil along miles of pristine beaches, or trade long-term coastal oil pollution for short-term air pollution by burning off the oil before it could spill. After weighing the consequences, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard conducted one of the first in-situ oil burns ever in the lower 48 states. Before joining ONR's marine meteorology program, Dr. Ron Ferek participated in a study on in-situ burning with Environment Canada and the states of Alaska, Oregon and Washington. The results of this study, which quantified the emissions expected from oil burning, allowed officials to make a quick determination that burning the New Carissa's oil was preferable to traditional clean-up and disposal methods which, in this instance, would have proven inefficient and impractical in the energetic surf zone. "Under most conditions, for typical spills, the air pollution generated from such a controlled oil burn could be expected to be much lower than that from slash burns, forest fires, agricultural burns or a typical Pacific Northwest town full of wood-burning stoves," said Ferek, who has conducted airborne studies on emissions from the Kuwaiti oil fires and large forest fires in the United States, Canada and Brazil. "In this case, the success of the burn was aided by its containment within the vessel, and the air pollutants were quickly dispersed by the high winds associated with the storm and the rapid rise of the hot emissions." A photo gallery of the burn is available on The Oregonian web site at


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