Although the shorelines of Prince William Sound still bear traces of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, most of the flattened tar balls that can be found today on these shorelines are not residues of Exxon Valdez oil. Instead, the carbon-isotopic and hydrocarbon-biomarker signatures of 61 tar ball samples, collected from shorelines throughout the northern and western parts of the sound, are all remarkably similar and have characteristics consistent with those of oil products that originated from the Monterey Formation source rocks of California. The carbon-isotopic compositions of the tar balls are all closely grouped (??13CPDB = -23.7 ?? 0.2???), within the range found in crude oils from those rocks, but are distinct from isotopic compositions of 28 samples of residues from the Exxon Valdez oil spill (??13CPDB = -29.4 ?? 0.1???). Likewise, values for selected biomarker ratios in the tar balls are all similar but distinct from values of residues from the 1989 oil spill. Carbon-isotopic and biomarker signatures generally relate the tar balls to oil products used in Alaska before ???1970 for construction and pavements. How these tar balls with such similar geochemical characteristics became so widely dispersed throughout the northern and western parts of the sound is not known with certainty, but the great 1964 Alaska earthquake was undoubtedly an important trigger, causing spills from ruptured storage facilities of California-sourced asphalt and fuel oil into Prince William Sound.
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Ubiquitous tar balls with a California-source signature on the shorelines of Prince William Sound, Alaska