Marine Science Faculty Publications

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Petroleum, Carbon isotope, Sediment, Gulf of Mexico, Deepwater, Horizon, Radiocarbon, Sedimentary organic carbon

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We have compiled and mapped available carbon isotope data from sedimentary organic material sampled from the Gulf of Mexico prior to 2010. These data provide a baseline to which any changes in the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill can be compared. The mean (±1σ) δ13C values, relative to PDB, are −21.4±1.9‰ (entire Gulf of Mexico), −21.7±1.2‰ (shelf sediments), −20.4±1.6‰ (deepwater sediments), and −25.2±4.1‰ (seep-affected sediments). We compare pre-spill mean δ13C values to carbon isotope measurements of sedimentary organic material from coretop samples collected after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The differences between the mean compiled δ13C values and the post-spill δ13C values are corroborated by qualitative relationships with the concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a proxy for oil contamination, in the sediment. The relationships between δ13C of the sedimentary organic material and PAH concentrations allow estimation of background levels of PAHs on the shelf and in the deep Gulf of Mexico. Higher background levels of PAH on the shelf likely relate to Mississippi River outflow and its deposition of petrogenic PAH in riverine sediments.

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Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, v. 129, p. 249-258