Journal article

First day of an oil spill on the open sea: Early mass transfers of hydrocarbons to air and water

During the first hours after release of petroleum at sea, crude oil hydrocarbons partition rapidly into air and water. However limited information is available about very early evaporation and dissolution processes. We report on the composition of the oil slick during the first day after a permitted, unrestrained 4.3 m3 oil release conducted on the North Sea. Rapid mass transfers of volatile and soluble hydrocarbons were observed, with >50% of ≤C17 hydrocarbons disappearing within 25 hours from this oil slick of <10 km2 area and <10 μm thickness. For oil sheen, >50% losses of ≤C16 hydrocarbons were observed after 1 hour. We developed a mass transfer model to describe the evolution of oil slick chemical composition and water column hydrocarbon concentrations. The model was parameterized based on environmental conditions and hydrocarbon partitioning properties estimated from comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography (GC×GC) retention data. The model correctly predicted the observed fractionation of petroleum hydrocarbons in the oil slick resulting from evaporation and dissolution. This is the first report on the broad-spectrum compositional changes in oil during the first day of a spill at the sea surface. Expected outcomes under other environmental conditions are discussed, as well as comparisons to other models.


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