Oil Spill Research Paper

The study also sheds light on why these contaminants can stay so long—five months—in the water column.

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Scientists also have known that phytoplankton, microscopic marine plants, play a role in delivering the oil to the seafloor.

In the new study, the researchers describe how that happens.

Between April 20 and July 15, 2010, about 200 million gallons of crude oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico from a blown well beneath the Deepwater Horizon oil rig—the largest marine oil spill in U. Some washed ashore; still more was broken down by chemical dispersants and consumed by bacteria.

But a large portion, perhaps a quarter, has been unaccounted for.

The researchers found that the movement of contaminants from the water column to the seafloor was intensified during August and September 2010 by an exceptionally large bloom of diatoms.

These phytoplankton produce a mucous, particularly when dying, that acts as a glue for other particles in the water.

More importantly, the presence of barium and the distribution of olefin compounds, two key components in drilling mud, confirmed the contaminants were associated with the spill.

“It’s kind of like a smoking gun for the source of the contaminants,” Yan said.

As this “marine snow” sank, it carried the contaminants from the oil spill to the seafloor.

It’s unclear whether the oil itself played a role in precipitating the diatom bloom.

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