Nearly a decade after the spill, oxygen-rich by-products don’t seem to be going anywhere
Sunlight shapes oil spills’ long-term legacies.
In the days and weeks after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, sunlight hit the oil slicks on the surface of the water. That triggered chemical reactions that added oxygen to oil molecules that once were just chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms. These oxygenated hydrocarbons are still sticking around eight years later with little evidence of degradation, researchers report May 29 in Environmental Science and Technology.
Chemist Christopher Reddy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and colleagues analyzed the oily soup of molecules floating in the Gulf post-disaster. (The Deepwater Horizon spill was the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history, leaking more than 3 million barrels.) While investigating how the leaked hydrocarbons broke down over time, the team got a surprise: More than half of the