Effect of marine snow on microbial oil degradation

A.A.M. Langenhoff, Shokouh Rahsepar, J.S. van Eenennaam, Jagoš R. Radović, Thomas B.P. Oldenburg, E.M. Foekema, A.J. Murk

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


In the aftermath of an oil spill, a possible response is the addition of chemical dispersants to prevent further spreading of the spilled oil on the ocean surface. The main objective is to enhance the formation of smaller oil droplets by reducing the interfacial tension between oil and water, thus dispersing the oil into the water column. The resulting solubilized oil with microdroplets along with the associated toxic compounds will be swiftly incorporated into the seawater. The formation of smaller oil droplets and the dispersant enhanced solubilized oil will increase its availability for bacteria and thus the biodegradability. Subsequently, the number and activity of oil-degrading bacteria increases, and more oil will be degraded in a shorter period of time (Kessler et al., Science 331:312–315, 2011). However, during the immediate release of the dispersed oil, volatile hydrocarbons including some of the more toxic compounds of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX) can inhibit the oil degradation (Sherry et al., Front Microbiol 5:131, 2014).
Depending on the oceanic conditions, the addition of chemical dispersants can result in excessive formation of marine snow. It has been shown that the application of dispersants during phytoplankton blooms can trigger the formation of marine snow to which the sticky dispersed oil can bind. In the presence of mineral particles, oiled snow complexes are being formed that become negatively buoyant and sink to the ocean floor. As a result, oiled marine snow accumulates on the ocean floor where biodegradation is inhibited due to oxygen depletion.
The abovementioned two mechanisms of inhibition of oil biodegradation upon application of oil spill dispersants will be discussed in this chapter.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDeep Oil Spills
Subtitle of host publicationFacts, Fate and Effects
EditorsS.A. Murawski, C.H. Ainsworth, S. Gilbert, D.J. Hollander, C.B. Paris, M. Schlueter, D.L. Wetzel
Place of PublicationCham
ISBN (Electronic)9783030116057
ISBN (Print)9783030116040
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2019


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