Biogeochemical controls on biodegradation of buried oil along a coastal headland beach

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Laboratory experiments investigated oxygen dynamics in buried oiled sands sampled from areas impacted by the Macondo spill. Measured oxygen fluxes in oil deposits that were permeable to tidal water ranged from 10 to 10 μmol/cm-sec, orders of magnitude higher than fluxes in non-permeable deposits (10 to 10 μmol/cm-sec). Oxygen dynamics were well described by 1-d models that represent increased oxygen consumption in oiled sands. Experiments demonstrated that when oxygen is present and the oil deposit is permeable to tidal water, biodegradation of alkylated phenanthrenes and dibenzothiophenes proceeded over time scales (i.e., weeks) to have a significant impact on the mass and quality of buried oil. For this biodegradation process to proceed, two independent conditions must be met, a source of oxygenated water has to be present (e.g., tidal flushing in the intertidal zone) and the oiled deposit has to be permeable to water (i.e., pores cannot be completely saturated with oil).

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Marine pollution bulletin

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