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Marine Science


The fluorescence excitation-emission matrix (EEM) technique coupled with parallel factor (PARAFAC) modeling and measurements of bulk organic carbon and other optical properties were used to characterize the oil components released from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and to examine the chemical evolution and transformation of oil in the water column. Seawater samples were collected from the Gulf of Mexico during October 2010 and October 2011, three months and fifteen months, respectively, after the oil spill was stopped. Together with previous results from samples collected during the oil spill in May/June 2010, these time series samples allow us to elucidate changes in the optical properties of dissolved organic matter (DOM) from the time of maximum oil impact to its recovery, 15 months after the spill. Although the oil had profoundly altered the optical properties of the DOM in the entire water column during the oil spill, naturally occurring DOM became predominant in surface waters by October 2010, three months after the spill. Anomalous DOM with high optical yields, however, still resided in deep waters even 15 months after the oil spill in October 2011, showing a persistent influence of the oil in deep waters. Based on fluorescence EEM data and PARAFAC modeling, three oil components and one natural humic-like DOM could be readily identified. The most prominent oil component had its maximum fluorescence intensity at Ex/Em 224/328 nm, and the other two centered on Ex/Em 264/324 and 232/346 nm, respectively. The humic-like DOM component had its wide emission peak from 390 to 460 nm over the excitation wavelength at similar to 248 nm. We hypothesized that component-2 (264/324 nm) was mostly derived from photochemical degradation and the component-3 (232/346 nm) could be a degradation product from both microbial and photochemical degradation, although both C2 and C3 are subject to degradation at different rates. The oil component ratios, such as C2/C1 and C3/C1, were closely related to degradation states of oil and can be used as a sensitive index to track the fate, transport and transformation of oil in the water column.

Publication Title

Environmental Research Letters





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