Floating oil-covered debris from the Deepwater Horizon : Identification and application
The discovery of oiled and non-oiled honeycomb material in the Gulf of Mexico surface waters and along coastal beaches shortly after the explosion of Deepwater Horizon sparked debate about its origin and the oil covering it. We show that the unknown pieces of oiled and non-oiled honeycomb material collected in the Gulf of Mexico were pieces of the riser pipe buoyancy module of Deepwater Horizon. Biomarker ratios confirmed that the oil had originated from the Macondo oil well and had undergone significant weathering. Using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's records of the oil spill trajectory at the sea surface, we show that the honeycomb material preceded the front edge of the uncertainty of the oil slick trajectory by several kilometers. We conclude that the observation of debris fields deriving from damaged marine materials may be incorporated into emergency response efforts and forecasting of coastal impacts during future offshore oil spills, and ground truthing predicative models.