Issue Date: January 2, 2012
Air Pollution Sources From Gulf Oil Spill
Evaporation of hydrocarbons created more air pollution from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill than did burning oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new study (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1110052108). Researchers, led by scientists from NOAA, analyzed air pollution created during the 2010 drilling rig disaster. The scientists found that about 8% (±4%) of the oil that reached the surface of the gulf eventually became tiny airborne particles. The mass of particulate matter from evaporating hydrocarbons was about 10 times that of the airborne soot created in controlled burns, which were set to reduce the size of the slicks and their effect on shorelines. Instruments detected a massive atmospheric plume of small organic particles and pollutant gases downwind of the spill site, says Ann M. Middlebrook, a NOAA scientist and lead author of the study. The study also revealed high levels of ground-level ozone downwind of the spill. Ozone can form from volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight.
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