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sediment, oil spills, hydrocarbons, Gulf of Mexico

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The southern Gulf of Mexico (sGoM) is home to an extensive oil recovery and development infrastructure. In addition, the basin harbors sites of submarine hydrocarbon seepage and receives terrestrial inputs from bordering rivers. We used stable carbon, nitrogen, and radiocarbon analyses of bulk sediment organic matter to define the current baseline isoscapes of surface sediments in the sGoM and determined which factors might influence them. These baseline surface isoscapes will be useful for accessing future environmental impacts. We also examined the region for influence of hydrocarbon deposition in the sedimentary record that might be associated with hydrocarbon recovery, spillage and seepage, as was found in the northern Gulf of Mexico (nGoM) following the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill in 2010. In 1979, the sGoM experienced a major oil spill, Ixtoc 1. Surface sediment δ13C values ranged from -22.4‰ to -19.9‰, while Δ14C values ranged from -337.1‰ to -69.2‰. Sediment δ15N values ranged from 2.8‰ to 7.2‰, while the %C on a carbonate-free basis ranged in value of 0.65% to 3.89% and %N ranged in value of 0.09% to 0.49%. Spatial trends for δ13C and Δ14C were driven by water depth and distance from the coastline, while spatial trends for δ15N were driven by location (latitude and longitude). Location and distance from the coastline were significantly correlated with %C and %N. At depth in two of twenty (10%) core profiles, we found negative δ13C and Δ14C excursions from baseline values in bulk sedimentary organic material, consistent with either oil-residue deposition or terrestrial inputs, but likely the latter. We then used 210Pb dating on those two profiles to determine the time in which the excursion-containing horizons were deposited. Despite the large spill in 1979, no evidence of hydrocarbon residue remained in the sediments from this specific time period.

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PLoS ONE, v. 15, issue 4, art. 0231678