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Investigating Oil from the USS Arizona

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The USS Arizona, an outline of which can be seen below the USS Arizona Memorial in this aerial photo, sank on Dec. 7, 1941 during the attack on Pearl Habor. The wreck has been leaking oil ever since it sank. In the summer of 2018, Chris Reddy, a marine chemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), had a rare opportunity to collect and analyze samples of the oil in the harbor directly from the memorial. The work was done in collaboration with the National Park Service's Submerged Resources Center and the United States Coast Guard Academy. (Photo courtesy of the United States Navy)
Built in 1910, the USS Arizona exploded after it was bombed during the Pearl Harbor attack. A total of 1,117 officers and crewmen were lost. Today, the wreck lies at the bottom of the harbor. It is straddled by the USS Arizona Memorial, which was built on Memorial Day, 1962. (Photo by Naval History and Heritage Command)
WHOI chemist Chris Reddy skims the surface of the water in Pearl Harbor with a Teflon net to sample oil downstream from the USS Arizona. (Chris Reddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
“You can smell the oil, hear people talking about it,” said Reddy, as he provided live updates from Pearl Harbor while skimming the surface sheen. “This is a place of great adrenaline and emotion.” (Brett Seymour, National Park Service)
WHOI scientists hope to “match” samples of the rainbow-colored surface sheens of oil floating in the harbor to oil samples from different compartments of the ship. A goal is to pinpoint where on the ship the oil is coming from, which may help inform plans to abate or diminish leaks in the future. The scientists will also analyze the chemical makeup of the oil to learn more about how oil compounds change once they flow from the ship into the ocean. (Chris Reddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Oil skimmed from the surface tinted the Teflon net with tea-colored splotches, shown at left next to a clean, unused net. Reddy folded the nets from each sample and placed them in vials that were sent back to WHOI for analysis. (Chris Reddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
The oil samples were received in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, by WHOI research technician Bob Nelson, an expert in using gas chromatography to analyze oil. (Chris Reddy, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Different oils contain a unique combination of chemical compounds that produce a distinctive chromatogram. Each peak in this image represents one of thousands of individual chemical compounds in oil. The taller the peak, the more of that particular compound is in the oil. (Courtesy of Bob Nelson)

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