Oil spill cleanups: finding the right chemistry

Sunlight plays a key role in the natural degradation of oil after a spill, oxygenating the oil so it dissolves in seawater and comes in contact with microbes that will break it down. But, under certain conditions, sunlight can have negative effects too. With continued exposure, the energy in sunlight drives chemical reactions that transform liquid oil into a sludge that has a consistency similar to peanut butter: thick, pasty and sticky. Supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, analytical chemist Matthew Tarr and his team at the University of New Orleans are using samples from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to learn more about how crude oil breaks down in seawater when it’s exposed to sunlight and dispersants. Their goal is to help refine the computer models that responders use to make cleanup plans. The research also adds to our overall understanding and helps mitigate environmental damage from future oil spills.

Provided by the National Science Foundation

Runtime: 3:24

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