Studying the Effects of the Black Tears of USS Arizona

October 03, 2018

Since the morning of December 7, 1941, they’ve been slowly leaking from the cracked hull of USS Arizona (BB-39), rising to create pools that float on the surface of Pearl Harbor. From the USS Arizona Memorial, visitors can see the so-called Black Tears of USS Arizona and view them as symbolism for the ship's sorrow over the loss of 1,177 of her crew members. Now the oil leaking from the battleship will be used as part of an ongoing study.

The Effects of the Tears of USS Arizona

United States Coast Guard Academy Cadets Marshall Grant, Ali Re, Terry Jung, and Linda Duncan have partnered with the National Park Service to place metal test samples in the water near the wreckage of USS Arizona. The purpose is to determine just how rapidly the oily waters are corroding the hull of the battleship. Ultimately, the cadets and the National Park Service are trying to calculate just how long Arizona has until she completely disintegrates.

Oil slick created by the Black Tears of USS Arizona

Oil slick created by the Black Tears of USS Arizona

“This is the first time that scientific results will be made from a test done on the Arizona by cadets,” Grant stated. Though the tests aren’t of material from USS Arizona herself, the metal used will simulate the same corrosion rate that the battleship’s hull is undergoing.

USS Arizona exploded and sank during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and has remained in place ever since. With her hull slowly deteriorating, there will come a time when the remains of the sunken battleship will no longer exist.

Part of the issue comes from the oil that has been leaking out of the ship since the attack - the Tears of USS Arizona. The National Park Service estimates that there is still approximately a half-million gallons left onboard. The leak has been slow, but has proven to be detrimental both to the remains of USS Arizona and the surrounding environment.

The experiment performed by the cadets is one of many studies done on Arizona’s corrosion rate as the National Park Service has been attempting to understand it since 1998. The cadets have been working alongside Brett Seymour of the National Park Service's Submerged Resources Center, who, as Grant points out, has been “extremely instrumental for [the] project.”

According to Grant, within 24 hours of the metal samples being placed in the water, they had already turned brown and had a layer of growth on them. Continued testing of the metal will occur over the course of several weeks, and again after six months, one year, two years, and then three years.

A Wider Purpose

A glimpse inside USS Arizona

A glimpse inside USS Arizona

In 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided the Coast Guard with a list of 36 shipwrecks across the United States seafloor that pose a potential oil pollution threat to offshore resources. Studying the effects of the oil leakage from Arizona may provide an idea as to how the pollution is spreading and how quickly the other wrecks are likely to be corroding.

“We hope to discover a pattern of mass loss in [the metal] which can than be used to determine the long term corrosion pattern of sunken ships in the same type of water,” Grant explains. “The project is not just about the long term preservation of the USS Arizona but of all shipwrecks with potential pollution.”

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