In situ biodegradation, photooxidation and dissolution of petroleum compounds in Arctic seawater and sea ice

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In pristine sea ice-covered Arctic waters the potential of natural attenuation of oil spills has yet to be uncovered, but increasing shipping and oil exploitation may bring along unprecedented risks of oil spills.

We deployed adsorbents coated with thin oil films for up to 2.5 month in ice-covered seawater and sea ice in Godthaab Fjord, SW Greenland, to simulate and investigate in situ biodegradation and photooxidation of dispersed oil.

GC-MS-based chemometric methods for oil fingerprinting were used to identify characteristic signatures for dissolution, biodegradation and photooxidation. In sub-zero temperature seawater, fast degradation of n-alkanes was observed with estimated half-life times of ∼7 days. PCR amplicon sequencing and qPCR quantification of bacterial genes showed that a biofilm with a diverse microbial community colonised the oil films, yet a population related to the psychrophilic hydrocarbonoclastic gammaproteobacterium Oleispira antarctica seemed to play a key role in n-alkane degradation. Although Oleispira populations were also present in sea ice, we found that biofilms in sea ice had 25 to 100 times lower bacterial densities than in seawater, which explained the non-detectable n-alkane degradation in sea ice. Fingerprinting revealed that photooxidation, but not biodegradation, transformed polycyclic aromatic compounds through 50 cm-thick sea ice and in the upper water column with removal rates up to ∼1% per day.

Overall, our results showed a fast biodegradation of n-alkanes in sea ice-covered seawater, but suggested that oils spills will expose the Arctic ecosystem to bio-recalcitrant PACs over prolonged periods of time.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWater Research
Volume148
Pages (from-to)459-468
ISSN0043-1354
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • Bacterial community, Sea ice, Biodegradation, Photooxidation, Arctic, Oil spill

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