Oil in the Ocean
The systematic study of oil in the ocean is relatively new to science, but since the late 1960s it has grown to encompass almost every area of oceanography.
Because oil is not a single substance, scientists face a number of challenges when it enters an environment as complex as the ocean. Crude oil and many refined petroleum products are a complex mixture of hundreds of chemicals, each one with a distinct set of behaviors and potential effects when released into the marine environment. Some of these substances differ only in the location or orientation of a single carbon atom on a long molecular chain involving dozens of atoms.
Despite this, even chemicals with nearly the same molecular structure can behave very differently once they enter the water, atmosphere, sediments, or an organism. As a result, scientists who study oil in marine settings often say that every spill is different and find that they must ask a unique set of questions every time they focus on a new location or event.
News & Insights
What happens to natural gas in the ocean?
WHOI marine chemist Chris Reddy weighs in on a methane leak in the Baltic Sea
A checkup for the oceans reveals threats to human health
The health of the world’s ocean is in serious decline—and human health is suffering as a result. A comprehensive report from the Monaco Commission and co-authored by several WHOI researchers…
Forged in fire: WHOI recalls the Deepwater Horizon crisis
It’s been a decade since the explosion of the BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Frontline WHOI scientists face unprecedented challenges when called to respond to the largest…
Fifty years later, the West Falmouth oil spill yields lasting contributions to remediation efforts
After 175,000 gallons of oil spilled from a barge that ran aground along West Falmouth Harbor, the contaminant has all but disappeared, save a small marsh inlet that continues to…
Rapid Response at Sea
As sea ice continues to melt in the Arctic and oil exploration expands in the region, the possibility of an oil spill occurring under ice is higher than ever. To…
Dissolving oil in a sunlit sea
What did scientists learn from Deepwater Horizon?
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WHOI in the News
Oil is more likely to stick around in a cold, sunny ocean
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From Oceanus Magazine
Sunlight and the fate of oil at sea
Danielle Haas Freeman draws on the language of chemistry to solve an oil spill puzzle
A toxic double whammy for sea anemones
Exposure to both oil and sunlight can be harmful to sea anemones
WHOI scientists discuss the chemistry behind Sri Lanka’s flaming plastic spill
Eight months after the M/V X-Press Pearl disaster in Sri Lanka, WHOI investigators talk about their research on the unique chemistry of the spilled plastic nurdles
Oil spill response beneath the ice
Successful test deployment of WHOI vehicle Polaris expands U.S. Coast Guard response to oil spills in the Arctic
WHOI scientist shares her perspective on ‘imminent’ oil spill in the Red Sea
As a major oil spill looms in the Red Sea, a WHOI physical oceanographer shares her insights on where the oil might go.