The Spread of Oil Slicks on a Calm Sea

  • James A. Fay
Part of the Ocean Technology book series (OCTC)


It is a common observation that oil, when spilled on water, tends to spread outward on the water surface in the form of a thin continuous layer. In those instances where this layer is as thin as a wave length of visible light, an iridescent color of the film, caused by light interference, is observed. This tendency to spread is the result of two physical forces: the force of gravity which causes the lighter oil to seek a constant level by spreading horizontally, just as it would on a plane horizontal solid surface, and the surface tension force of pure water, which is usually greater than that of the oil film floating on water. While the oil layer could spread while still remaining intact until it had formed a monomolecular layer, spreading usually stops when the layer is much thicker than this, most likely because of a change in the surface tension properties of the oil.


Surface Tension Viscous Force Surface Tension Force Iridescent Color Thin Continuous Layer 
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  1. 1.
    Smith, J. E., (ed.), ‘Torrey Canyon’ Pollution and Marine Life, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1968).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Stroop, D. v., “Report on Oil Pollution Experiments Behavior of Fuel Oil in the Surface of the Sea,” pp. 41–49, Pollution of Navigable Waters, Bureau of Standards, Washington (1927).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1969

Authors and Affiliations

  • James A. Fay
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Mechanical EngineeringMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

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