I am visiting the lovely Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, again.
Last thursday we had an unusual occurrence, the ocean farted.

I am staying at the new visitors’ cottages at Coal Point


– by the way, if you’re the type to visit KITP, and a lot of you are, you know who you are… then I highly recommend the West Cottages.

Anyway, Coal Point is so named, because it is the site of the largest natural oil seepage known – about 100 barrels per day! That is about 1% of the likely leak rate at Deepwater Horizons in the Gulf of Mexico – and it is open to the Pacific, pretty much.


The oil comes up on the beach and forms tar lumps, the Cottages have a tar clean off room, for those walking to UCSB (nice walk), with a foot shower and some “tar off”.
Oil has been seeping there for a long time


the cliffs between Isla Vista and Coal Point, are, I’m told, Franciscan formation, from the late tertiary (ie young), and there is a layer of pleistocene fossils in the cliff in very loose sandstone – interestingly under a layer of what looks like young tephra – don’t know if it is from Yellowstone, which did bury the Ventura basin in ash, or something more recent from Mammoth or some such – anyway the fossil shells are order million years, I’m told – and when we dug some out, they had tar deposits inside them!
Seepage has been going on long enough for local marine life to do some evolutionary adaption to the oil.

Anyway, last thursday, I was walking to work along the cliff, and noticed a strong odour – I actually though it might be oil volatiles from the beach, as the Sun had come out – but then I arrived on campus to find the following:


May 20, 2010

TO: The Campus Community

FR: Associate Vice Chancellor, Administrative Services

RE: Offshore Gas Plume

At approx 10 am this morning we believe an off-shore gas plume of a significant size passed through the campus with the prevailing winds. Buildings known to be affected were the Student Resource Building, HSSB, and Bio II. More buildings may have been affected, but did not report an odor. Santa Barbara County Fire responded to natural gas smells in several buildings and no hazardous conditions were found. Buildings that had the fire alarms manually activated were reset and occupants allowed to resume activities.

It was an ocean fart.

Natural gas, probably mixed with a bit of H2S for the extra smell, had bubbled up from the seabed that morning, and drifted in moderate wind about two miles down the coast, enough to trigger alarms.
Not enough to be a health concern, I think, though I don’t know I’d have wanted to be out on a fishing boat off the point that morning.

It was interesting.


  1. #1 ryano
    May 25, 2010

    This story sounds eerily familiar. It sounds just like: “All right, Beatrice, there was no alien. The flash of light you saw in the sky was not a UFO. Swamp gas from a weather balloon was trapped in a thermal pocket and reflected the light from Venus.”

  2. #2 horsey schnitzel
    May 25, 2010


  3. #3 Elke
    June 9, 2010

    The first image I find most beautiful and reminds me of Crete

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