Swarthout Robert F.

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Robert F.

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  • Article
    Hurricane Isaac brings more than oil ashore: Characteristics of beach deposits following the Deepwater Horizon spill.
    (Public Library of Science, 2019-03-18) Lemkau, Karin L. ; Reddy, Christopher M. ; Carmichael, Catherine A. ; Aeppli, Christoph ; Swarthout, Robert F. ; White, Helen K.
    Prior to Hurricane Isaac making landfall along the Gulf of Mexico coast in August 2012, local and state officials were concerned that the hurricane would mobilize submerged oiled-materials from the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) spill. In this study, we investigated materials washed ashore following the hurricane to determine if it affected the chemical composition or density of oil-containing sand patties regularly found on Gulf Coast beaches. While small changes in sand patty density were observed in samples collected before and after the hurricane, these variations appear to have been driven by differences in sampling location and not linked to the passing of Hurricane Isaac. Visual and chemical analysis of sand patties confirmed that the contents was consistent with oil from the Macondo well. Petroleum hydrocarbon signatures of samples collected before and after the hurricane showed no notable changes. In the days following Hurricane Isaac, dark-colored mats were also found on the beach in Fort Morgan, AL, and community reports speculated that these mats contained oil from the DWH spill. Chemical analysis of these mat samples identified n-alkanes but no other petroleum hydrocarbons. Bulk and δ13C organic carbon analyses indicated mat samples were comprised of marshland peat and not related to the DWH spill. This research indicates that Hurricane Isaac did not result in a notable change the composition of oil delivered to beaches at the investigated field sites. This study underscores the need for improved communications with interested stakeholders regarding how to differentiate oiled from non-oiled materials. This is especially important given the high cost of removing oiled debris and the increasing likelihood of false positives as oiled-materials washing ashore from a spill become less abundant over time.