Constraining the Spatial Extent of Marine Oil Snow Sedimentation and Flocculent Accumulation Following the Deepwater Horizon Event Using an Excess 210Pb Flux Approach

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Geologic Sediments, Gulf of Mexico, Lead, Petroleum Pollution, Water Pollutants, Chemical

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Following the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) event in 2010, there were several lines of evidence indicating the presence of marine oil snow sedimentation and flocculent accumulation (MOSSFA). A significant amount of marine oil snow formed in the water column of the northern Gulf of Mexico (nGoM), settled rapidly, and ultimately accumulated in the sediments of the nGoM. This study utilized a commonly used radioisotope tracer (excess 210Pb, 210Pbxs) from 32 sediment cores collected from 2010 to 2013 to characterize the spatial extent of MOSSFA on the seafloor. Relative to pre-DWH conditions, an increase in 210Pbxs flux occurred in two distinct regions: (1) in the western portion of the study area on an east-northeast to west-southwest axis, stretching 230 km southwest and 140 km northeast of the DWH wellhead, and (2) in the eastern portion of the study area on a 70 km northeast to southwest axis near the DeSoto Canyon. The total sedimentary spatial extent of MOSSFA, as calculated by increased 210Pbxs flux after 2010, ranged from 12 805 to 35 425 km2. 210Pbxs flux provides a valuable tool for documenting the spatial extent of MOSSFA following DWH and will continue to aid in the determination of advective transport and ultimate depocenters of MOSSFA material.


Data used in this article are available for download.

Northern Gulf of Mexico Pb-210 Inventories, 2010-2013

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Environmental Science & Technology, v. 21, issue 11, p. 5962-5968