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Title: Decomposition of sediment-oil-agglomerates in a Gulf of Mexico sandy beach

Sediment-oil-agglomerates (SOA) are one of the most common forms of contamination impacting shores after a major oil spill; and following the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) accident, large numbers of SOAs were buried in the sandy beaches of the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. SOAs provide a source of toxic oil compounds, and although SOAs can persist for many years, their long-term fate was unknown. Here we report the results of a 3-yearin-situexperiment that quantified the degradation of standardized SOAs buried in the upper 50 cm of a North Florida sandy beach. Time series of hydrocarbon mass, carbon content, n-alkanes, PAHs, and fluorescence indicate that the decomposition of golf-ball-size DWH-SOAs embedded in beach sand takes at least 32 years, while SOA degradation without sediment contact would require more than 100 years. SOA alkane and PAH decay rates within the sediment were similar to those at the beach surface. The porous structure of the SOAs kept their cores oxygen-replete. The results reveal that SOAs buried deep in beach sands can be decomposed through relatively rapid aerobic microbial oil degradation in the tidally ventilated permeable beach sand, emphasizing the role of the sandy beach as an aerobic biocatalytical reactor at the land-ocean interface.

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Publication Date:
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Scientific Reports
Nature Publishing Group
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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