Level and degradation of deepwater horizon spilled oil in coastal marsh sediments and pore-water

Michael Natter, Jeff Keevan, Yang Wang, Alison R. Keimowitz, Benedict C. Okeke, Ahjeong Son, Ming Kuo Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


This research investigates the level and degradation of oil at ten selected Gulf saltmarsh sites months after the 2010 BP Macondo-1 well oil spill. Very high levels (10-28%) of organic carbon within the heavily oiled sediments are clearly distinguished from those in pristine sediments (<3%). Dissolved organic carbon in contaminated pore-waters, ranging up to hundreds of mg/kg, are 1 to 2 orders of magnitude higher than those at pristine sites. Heavily oiled sediments are characterized by very high sulfide concentrations (up to 80 mg/kg) and abundance of sulfate reducing bacteria. Geochemical biomarkers and stable carbon isotope analyses fingerprint the presence of oils in sediments. Ratios of selected parameters calculated from the gas chromatograph spectra are in a remarkable narrow range among spilled oils and initial BP crude. At oiled sites dominated by C4 plants, δ13C values of sediments (-20.8 ± 2.0‰) have been shifted significantly lower compared to marsh plants (-14.8 ± 0.6‰) due to the inflow of isotopically lighter oil (-27 ± 0.2‰). Our results show that (1) lighter compounds of oil are quickly degraded by microbes while the heavier fractions of oil still remain and (2) higher inputs of organic matter from the oil spill enhance the key microbial processes associated with sulfate reducing bacteria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5744-5755
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number11
StatePublished - 5 Jun 2012


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