The Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of the Gulf Ecosystem

A tale of two Gulf spills: A research consortium of 19 institutions from 5 countries studying the impacts of oil spills on the Gulf of Mexico.

Assessing the impacts of oil-associated marine snow formation and sedimentation during and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

  • Friday, 19 February 2016

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the largest in US history, unprecedented for the depth and volume of oil released, the amount of dispersants applied, and the unexpected, protracted sedimentation of oil-associated marine snow (MOS) to the seafloor. Marine snow formation, incorporation of oil, and subsequent gravitational settling to the seafloor (i.e., MOSSFA: Marine Oil Snow Sedimentation and Flocculent Accumulation) was a significant pathway for the distribution and fate of oil, accounting for as much as 14% of the total oil released. Long residence times of oil on the seafloor will result in prolonged exposure by benthic organisms and economically important fish. Bioaccumulation of hydrocarbons into the food web also has been documented. Major surface processes governing the MOSSFA event included an elevated and extended Mississippi River discharge, which enhanced phytoplankton production and suspended particle concentrations, zooplankton grazing, and enhanced microbial mucus formation. Previous reports indicated that MOS sedimentation also occurred during the Tsesis and Ixtoc-I oil spills; thus, MOSSFA events may occur during future oil spills, particularly since 85% of global deep-water oil exploration sites are adjacent to deltaic systems. We provide a conceptual framework of MOSSFA processes and identify data gaps to help guide current research and to improve our ability to predict MOSSFA events under different environmental conditions. Baseline time-series data and model development are urgently needed for all levels of ecosystems in regions of hydrocarbon extraction to prepare for and respond to future oil spills and to understand the impacts of oil spills on the environment.

Ref: Daly, K. L., Passow, U., Chanton, J., Hollander, D. Assessing the impacts of oil-associated marine snow formation and sedimentation during and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Antropocene, 2016.

  • Last modified on Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Podcasts from The Loop

The Loop is a series of podcasts which take an in depth look at C-IMAGE research. Partnering with Mind Open Media reporters Ari Daniel Shapiro and David Levin, our researchers share the importance of their studies and how they help our understanding of oil spills. David and Ari have produced eight podcasts and have more in the queue. The podcasts are linked below. Plug in and learn about our research!

Listen to More Podcasts!