Marine Science Faculty Publications

Changes in Redox Conditions of Surface Sediments Following the Deepwater Horizon and Ixtoc 1 Events

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Oil spill, Gulf of Mexico, Deepwater Horizon, Redox, Trace metal, Rhenium, Manganese

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Following the blowout of the Macondo well, a sedimentation pulse resulted in significant changes in sedimentary redox conditions. This is demonstrated by downcore and temporal changes in the concentration of redox-sensitive metals: Mn and Re. Sediment cores collected in the NE Gulf of Mexico reveal increased sedimentation after the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) blowout. The formation of mucous-rich marine snow in surface waters and subsequent rapid deposition to sediments is the likely cause. Respiration of this material resulted in decreased pore-water oxygen and a shoaled redoxcline, resulting in two distinct Mn peaks in sediments following the event, one typically in the top 5–7 mm, with the other at 20–30 mm. Cores near the wellhead reveal this nonsteady-state behavior for 3–5 years after the event. A time series reveals that bulk sediment Re increased 3–4 times compared to the pre-impact baseline value for 2–3 years indicating sediments are increasingly more reducing. Three years after the blowout, subsurface Re reaches a plateau suggesting a return to steady-state conditions. In select sites where benthic foraminifera were counted, an assemblage-wide decrease is coincident with reducing conditions, demonstrating the important consequences of changing redox conditions on benthic ecosystems.

Another major submarine blowout in the southern Gulf of Mexico (Ixtoc 1; 1979–1980) released a large volume of crude oil below the surface. We observe multiple Mn oxide peaks associated with a shoaling redoxcline and Re maxima associated with more reducing conditions. Nonsteady-state behavior at sites near DWH and Ixtoc 1 is consistent with a MOSSFA (marine oil snow sedimentation and flocculent accumulation) event at both locations.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Changes in Redox Conditions of Surface Sediments Following the Deepwater Horizon and Ixtoc 1 Events, in S. A. Murawski, C. H. Ainsworth, S. Gilbert, D. J. Hollander, C. B. Paris, M. Schlüter & D. L. Wetzel (Eds.), Deep Oil Spills Facts, Fate, and Effects, Springer, p. 269-284