Students Simulate Oil Spill Disaster

Student scientists in Athena Iliou’s fifth-grade class at Santapogue Elementary School learned about the devastating effects that oil spills have on the environment, along with commonly used methods for cleanup. Creating a simulated oil spill, they investigated how oil can spread quickly over water and determined the most effective methods of clean up.

The students first read information on the BP Deep Horizon and Exxon Valdez oil spill disasters. They subsequently created an oil spill by pouring dyed vegetable oil into a pan of water. The students also placed rocks, a plant sprig, pipe cleaner animals and a couple of feathers at the edge of the pan to represent wildlife and shoreline fauna. A straw was then used to blow the oil around to represent how wind and waves could spread an oil slick.

The second part of the lesson included an observation of the effects on their created environments, and noted that oil can get trapped under rocks and shoreline and remain there indefinitely, even after a spill is believed to have been cleaned up. Using a variety of materials, such as eye droppers, paper towels, cotton balls, rubber bands and yarn — items that could work in a similar fashion to the methods the students learned about — they determined the most effective methods for cleanup.