Supporting natural immunity, metabolism, and healthy bones; reducing inflammation; promoting plant growth—you already know many benefits of sunlight. Today, scientists are discovering that the light that rules the day (Genesis 1:16) may also be effective at cleaning up (some!) human messes.
Researchers have long studied how oil behaves in water—specifically in the ocean after an oil spill. They know that sunlight can cause various chemical reactions. Some change the oil into long-lasting new compounds. Some increase how easily the oil dissolves.
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster was the largest oil spill in history. An explosion on a drilling rig sent 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Crews have battled effects of the slick ever since.
A February article in Science Advances reports on how sunlight can transform oil into organic compounds—very similar to those that occur naturally in water. Turns out, sunlight may help clean up oil slime better than anyone thought.
Scientific discoveries of creation’s built-in problem solvers can cause Christians to wonder with the prophet, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the Earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:28)
Scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution placed samples of the same oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill on glass. Chemists Danielle Haas Freeman and Collin Ward hit the samples with the same light wavelengths as found in natural sunlight, a process known as irradiation. Analysis of the irradiated oil revealed how much oil dissolved into organic matter.
Freeman and Ward discovered some important factors in the dissolving process. The oil slick’s thickness and the light wavelengths were key. In fact, the longer the wavelength, the less dissolved oil. Length of exposure turned out not to be as important.
The Woods Hole team’s computer simulations also suggest that seasons, location on the globe, and the chemical makeup of the oil make a difference in the dissolving process as well.
Researchers now think that naturally occurring sunlight may have helped dissolve somewhere between 3% and 17% of the surface oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill. That’s 6,300,000 to 35,700,000 gallons of oil—poof!
And as it has since the dawn of creation, the Sun comes up every morning and begins its God-ordained tasks anew. Great is God’s faithfulness!
Why? Scientific discoveries often illustrate God’s infinite care for His creation—and that His plans from the beginning have been for our good and His glory.