Deep marine oil spills: a new conceptual model for physical-chemical and biological processes occurring and effects of dispersants on pollution mitigation

  • 1 October, 2012
  • 1 December, 2021
  • Wageningen University, Environmental Technology
  • prof. dr HHM Rijnaarts
  • dr ir AAM Langenhoff

Oil spills can have serious adverse impact on the marine environment, both on marine ecosystems and economic resources such as fisheries, aquaculture and tourism. Adequate response to an oil spill is obviously of great importance to minimize the environmental and economic damages. An often used method is application of chemical dispersant. The principal aim of dispersant application is to break up the oil slick into small droplets which become rapidly diluted into the water column and are subsequently degraded by naturally occurring microorganisms. However, the understanding of this process is based on experiments with clean sea water, while natural sea water contains particles and plankton which may affect the dispersants function.
During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a thick toxic sediment layer (TSL) formed at the ocean floor. Such a phenomenon was not observed before in such extent. It is assumed that this might be due to the possible interactions in the real sea water between the dispersant, oil, plankton and other suspended particles. These interactions result in the formation of extracellular material (EPS) by the plankton which may affect the oil biodegradation and formation of extensive complexes that settle as TSL.
The aim of this research is to understand how chemical dispersants effect biodegradation of oil in the water column and sediments in more realistic sea water (in presence of e.g. plankton and/or suspended particles). In addition, technological options to enhance biodegradation in the water column and TSL will be explored. The results of this study will feed into the overarching (C-IMAGE/TripleP@Sea) project, where a location-specific decision support tool for oil spill responses will be developed.


Shokouh Rahsepar

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