Brian Merchant over at Treehugger jumped on a boat and travelled to an island off Alabama's coast to get these exclusive first shots of oil making land there.

Photo credit: Brian Merchant/Treehugger 

Photo: Brian Merchant/Treehugger

What you're looking at is are tar balls. When crude oil spends a few days in the sea and sun it loses a lot of volatile and water soluble chemicals and becomes especially thick and viscous. It will form into blobs in size up to four or five inches wide and can wreck havoc on anything living unfortunate to be caught in its sticky oily grasps.

Brian took a boat out with Greenpeace, conservation scientist Rick Steiner, and a German television crew and found tar balls and fresher oil aplenty on beaches and in marshlands two hours from the mainland.

His shots (click over to Treehugger to see them all) are some of the first of oil washing ashore that I've seen. I'm afraid there are many, many more behind it to come.

As of publishing time, the gusher of oil isn't any closer to being capped. BP's four story tall super silo funnel pump has been gummed up by hydrate crystals (gasoline crystals that form at cold temperatures) and is sitting on the ocean floor aside from the leak waiting on BP to figure out what to do now. We're a little over a third of the way to Exxon Valdez if you trust the official numbers, I don't think anyone reasonable would be surprised if the real running, gushing total was much higher.

Click over to Treehugger if you haven't already and check out the full spread of photos.

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