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Oil and water don’t mix: a closer look at role of micron-size oil droplets during a sub-surface oil release

  • 112 O&M Building, Texas A&M University (map)


We tend to take some knowledge from granted. Oil and water don’t mix; hydrocarbons are rather insoluble; oil slicks float in the surface of the ocean; wave action creates entrained droplets; crude oil could be toxic; we can model almost everything. Still, some of the most fundamental knowledge regarding crude oil is sometime referred to anecdotal quotations. One striking example is the solubility of aromatic hydrocarbons in saltwater a high pressure and low temperature. There is almost no data on it and the experiments to determine it could be extremely challenging.

The Deepwater Horizon accident introduced additional interpretation challenges such as the location of the release and the sub-surface application of chemical dispersants. We have extensively studied the production, stability, detection and characterization of micron-size droplets of Macondo oil with respect to important processes such as chemical equilibrium, biodegradation and toxicity. Three key topics will be presented in the talk: a) the characterization and environmental relevance of oil-water preparations of fresh and weathered Macondo oils; b) the biodegradation of dispersed Macondo crude oil by indigenous Gulf of Mexico microbial communities and c) the influence of oil-droplets to the toxicity of reference species.