Composition and biodegradation of a synthetic oil spilled on the perennial ice cover of lake Fryxell, Antarctica

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A helicopter crashed in January 2003 on the 5 m-thick perennial ice cover of Lake Fryxell, spilling synthetic turbine oil Aeroshell 500. Molecular compositions of the oils were analyzed by gas chromatography - mass spectrometry and compared to the composition of contaminants in ice, meltwater, and sediments collected a year after the accident. Aeroshell 500 is based on C 20 - C 33 Pentaerythritol triesters (PET) with C 5 - C 10 fatty acids susbstituents and contain a number of antioxidant additives, such as tricresyl phosphates. Biodegradation of this oil in the ice cover occurs when sediments are present. PETs with short fatty acids substituents are preferentially degraded, whereas long chain fatty acids seem to hinder esters from hydrolysis by esterase derived from the microbial assemblage. It remains to be seen if the microbial ecosystem can degrade tricresyl phosphates. These more recalcitrant PET species and tricresyl phosphates are likely to persist and comprise the contaminants that may eventually cross the ice cover to reach the pristine lake water. © 2009 American Chemical Society.

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Environmental Science and Technology

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