Comprehensive study of a heavy fuel oil spill : modeling and analytical approaches to understanding environmental weathering
Lemkau, Karin L.
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LocationSan Francisco, CA
Driven by increasingly heavy oil reserves and more efficient refining technologies, use of heavy fuel oils for power generation is rising. Unlike other refined products and crude oils, a large portion of these heavy oils is undetectable using the traditional gas chromatography-based techniques on which oil spill science has been based. In the current study, samples collected after the 2007 M/V Cosco Busan heavy fuel oil spill (San Francisco, CA) were analyzed using gas chromatography (GC)-based techniques, numerical modeling and Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR MS) to examine natural weathering of the oil over a one and a half year period. Traditional GC techniques detected variable evidence of evaporation/ dissolution, biodegradation and photodegradation. Petroleum hydrocarbon compounds smaller than ~n-C16 were rapidly lost due to evaporation and dissolution. Significant biodegradation was not detected until one month post spill while photodegradation was only observed at one field site. To further examine the processes of evaporation and dissolution, samples were analyzed with comprehensive two-dimensional GC (GC×GC) and a physiochemical model developed to approximate quantitative apportionment of compounds lost to the atmosphere and water. Model results suggest temperature is the primary control of evaporation. Finally, to examine the prominent non-GC amenable component of the oil, samples were analyzed with FT-ICR MS. Results showed expected clustering of samples, with those samples collected sooner after the spill having the most compositional similarity to the unweathered oil. Analysis of dominant heteroatom classes within the oil showed losses of high molecular weight species and the formation of stable core structures with time. These results highlight the susceptibility to weathering of these higher molecular weight components, previously believed to be recalcitrant in the environment. Research findings indicate that environmental weathering results in removal or alteration of larger alkylated compounds as well as loss of lower molecular weight species through evaporation/dissolution, biodegradation and photodegradation, with a resultant fraction of stable compounds likely to remain in the environment years after the spill. This research demonstrates the advantages of combining multiple analytical and modeling approaches for a fuller understanding of oil spill chemistry.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution June 2012
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