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Ramped pyrolysis isotope (13C and 14C) analysis coupled with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) analysis demonstrates the utility of ramped pyrolysis in screening for oil content in sediments. Here, sediments from Barataria Bay, Louisiana, USA that were contaminated by oil from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill display relationships between oil contamination, pyrolysis profiles, and isotopic composition. Sediment samples with low PAH concentrations are thermochemically stable until higher temperatures, while samples containing high concentrations of PAHs pyrolyze at low temperatures. High PAH samples are also depleted in radiocarbon (14C), especially in the fractions that pyrolyze at low temperatures. This lack of radiocarbon in low temperature pyrolyzates is indicative of thermochemically unstable, 14C-free oil content. This study presents a proof of concept that oil contamination can be identified by changes in thermochemical stability in organic material and corroborated by isotope analysis of individual pyrolyzates, thereby providing a basis for application of ramped pyrolysis isotope analysis to samples deposited in different environments for different lengths of time.

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Environmental Research Letters, v. 8, issue 4, art. 044038

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