Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

David J. Hollander, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Patrick T. Schwing, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brad E. Rosenheim, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Isabel C. Romero, Ph.D.


Biogenic Silica, Dam constuctions, Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, IXTOC-I Oil Spill, MOSSFA


The goal of this research is to understand the impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the 1970-1980 IXTOC-I oil spill and other anthropogenic activity (e.g. dam construction) on surface water primary productivity by measuring sedimentary biogenic silica. It is known that sedimentary biogenic silica is distinct from mineral – bound silica, therefore it has been used as a proxy record for surface water primary productivity (e.g. diatom blooms). The Deepwater Horizon oil spill resulted in a widespread Marine Oil Snow Sedimentation and Flocculent Accumulation (MOSSFA) event. The IXTOC-I oil spill was one of the largest oil spills in history and it is likely that the MOSSFA event occurred as a direct result. MOSSFA is characterized by increased deposition of surface derived components and dramatic changes in post-depositional chemical (redox) and biological (benthic meio- and macro-fauna) conditions. Sedimentary biogenic silica provides an independent record of the surface derived portion of MOSSFA inputs. Occurrences of MOSSFA after IXTOC-I and Deepwater Horizon were compared by collecting sediment cores from the northern Gulf of Mexico (Deepwater Horizon) and the southern Gulf of Mexico (IXTOC-I). An age model for each core was developed using short-lived radioisotopes (i.e. 210Pbxs). Sedimentary biogenic silica was significantly elevated in sedimentary intervals affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill. This suggests that a significant portion of the surface biological materials entrained during the MOSSFA event were sourced by diatom production. However, only one core (of three from the oil spill influenced area utilized in this study) from shallower depth had elevated levels of sedimentary biogenic silica in the sedimentary interval associated with IXTOC-I. Also, the down-core profiles of sedimentary

biogenic silica from the other cores collected in the southern Gulf of Mexico are consistent with the history of dam construction (1949 to 1989) on the Grijalva and Papaloapan river systems. These two river systems are the dominant freshwater and nutrient sources for primary production in the Bay of Campeche region in the southern Gulf of Mexico and therefore the dominant control on diatom productivity and sedimentary biogenic silica distribution. Consequently, distribution of annual fresh water outflow and nutrient supply has transitioned from seasonal (before 1940’s) to stable (after 1980’s). Overall, sedimentary biogenic silica provides an independent record of surface derived MOSSFA inputs and serves as a proxy for other anthropogenic influences related to surface primary productivity variability.