Document Type


Publication Date



Marine Science


The extensive release of oil during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico perturbed the pelagic ecosystem and associated sinking material. To gauge the recovery and post-spill baseline sources, we measured D14C, d13C and d34S of sinking particles near the spill site and at a reference site and natural seep site. Particulates were collected August 2010–April 2016 in sediment traps moored at sites with depths of 1160–1660 m. Near the spill site, changes in D14C indicated a 3-year recovery period, while d34S indicated 1–2 years, which agreed with estimates of 1–2 years based on hydrocarbon composition. Under post-spill baseline conditions, carbon inputs to sinking particulates in the northern Gulf were dominated by surface marine production (80–85%) and riverine inputs (15–20%). Near the spill site, D14C values were depleted in October 2010 (–140 to –80‰), increasing systematically by 0.07 ± 0.02‰ day–1 until July 2013 when values reached –3.2 ± 31.0‰. This D14C baseline was similar to particulates at the reference site (3.8 ± 31.1‰). At both sites, d13C values stayed constant throughout the study period (–21.9 ± 0.5‰ and –21.9 ± 0.9‰, respectively). d34S near the spill site was depleted (7.4 ± 3.1‰) during October 2010–September 2011, but enriched (16.9 ± 2.0‰) and similar to the reference site (16.2 ± 3.1‰) during November 2012–April 2015. At the seep site, Δ14C values were –21.7 ± 45.7‰ except during August 2012–January 2013 when a significant Δ14C depletion of –109.0 ± 29.1‰ was observed. We interpret this depletion period, also observed in d13C data, as caused by the incorporation of naturally seeped oil into sinking particles. Determination of post-spill baselines for these isotopic signatures allows for evaluation of anthropogenic inputs in future.

Publication Title

Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene





Find in your library