Coastal Threat: A Story In Unit Conversions
On February 4, 1999, the 639-foot freighter New Carissa became grounded near Coos Bay on the Oregon coast. Aboard the ship were 400,000 gallons of bunker fuel, threatening to leak from the fractured hull and damage the state's fragile beach habitats. With an approaching storm increasing the chances of a disastrous spill, authorities decided to set the ship afire, a choice not without controversy and risks of its own. An oceanographer friend and I became curious about the extent of the disaster associated with the potential spill. 400,000 gallons is equivalent to 400,000 milk jugs -- a lot of milk. But how much space does 400,000 gallons really take up? Some simple arithmetic can help put the quantity in perspective.