Oil spills in oceans can dissipate within hours affecting marine life

A new study conducted by the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science reveals how oil dissipates in the oceans after spills.

The study talks about the effects of chemical dispersants on the marine environment. It demonstrates under realistic environmental conditions, oil drifting in oceans after a spill could photo-oxidise into persistent compounds within hours to days. This is way sooner than previously thought.

The research is the first model result to support the new example of photo-oxidation that emerged from laboratory work.

Usually, after an oil spill, the droplets weather down and degrade due to continuous exposure to sunlight and oxygen, this weathering process is known as photo-oxidation. This further results in the degradation of crude oil into other carbon-based by-products over time like tar.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, titled ‘A Coupled Lagrangian-Earth System Model for Predicting Oil Photooxidation.’ The team, in order to understand how sunlight degrades oil, developed the first oil-spill model algorithm that can track the dose of solar radiation in oil droplets as they rise from deep-sea and up to the ocean surface.

According to Claire Paris, UM Rosenstiel School faculty and senior author of the study, it is crucial to understand the ‘timing’ and ‘location’ of this weathering process. “It helps in directing efforts and resources on fresh oil while avoiding stressing the environment with chemical dispersants on oil that cannot be dispersed,” Paris added.