Scientists from the University of Texas at Austin assessed photooxidation and biodegradation rates on different hydrocarbon groups.
They found that photooxidation was the main driver for degrading aromatic hydrocarbons, and biodegradation was the key process controlling the degradation of saturated hydrocarbons (alkanes). Exposure to sunlight, however, inhibited the biodegradation of the branched alkanes, pristane and phytane.The researchers published their findings in the April 2015 Marine Pollution Bulletin: Differentiating the roles of photooxidation and biodegradation in the weathering of Light Louisiana Sweet crude oil in surface water from the Deepwater Horizon site.
This study provided insights into the relative importance of oil photooxidation and biodegradation in Gulf of Mexico surface waters and provided quantitative measures for oil spill modeling. Researchers acknowledged the need to account for other physical and chemical processes affecting oil fate and to better understand the effects of long-term alkane photooxidation and metabolites in the environment.
This research was made possible in part by a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to the Dispersion Research on Oil: Physics and Plankton Studies (DROPPS) consortium.