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The Rate of Crude Oil Biodegradation in the Sea

Prince, Roger C., Butler, Josh D., Redman, Aaron D.
Environmental Science & Technology 2017 v.51 no.3 pp. 1278-1284
biodegradation, half life, oils, petroleum, shorelines
Various groups have studied the rate of oil biodegradation in the sea over many years, but with no consensus on results. This can be attributed to many factors, but we show here that the principal confounding influence is the concentration of oil used in different experiments. Because of dilution, measured concentrations of dispersed oil in the sea are sub-parts-per-million within a day of dispersal, and at such concentrations the rate of biodegradation of detectable oil hydrocarbons has an apparent half-life of 7–14 days. This can be contrasted with the rate of degradation at the higher concentrations found in oil slicks or when stranded on a shoreline; there the apparent half-life varies from many months to many years.