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Oil is a complex mixture containing hundreds of different substances, each one with unique chemical and physical properties. Understanding the chemistry of oil and the chemical processes that arise when oil enters the ocean are key parts of disentangling the full range of real and potential impacts of a spill.

seewald sampler Collecting Oil Samples
Deepwater Horizon, 2010
Principal Investigators: Chris Reddy, Jeff Seewald
Before scientists could calculate the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf, they needed to know the composition of the material gushing from the ruptured wellhead. To obtain this crucial piece of information, WHOI scientists used a device originally built to study hydrothermal vent fluids to capture and contain a sample of the oil and gas and then transport it back to the lab at pressure for analysis.

Analyzing Gulf water samples Analyzing Gulf Water Samples
Deepwater Horizon, 2010
Principal Investigator: Liz Kujawinski
Oil is a complex mixture of up to 100,000 compounds, some soluble in water, some not. Once it enters the environment, particularly the ocean, it begins to fractionate and no longer acts as a single substance. WHOI chemists have developed finely tuned analytical instruments and techniques to track minute amounts of the soluble components of oil in the Gulf, as well as faint chemical traces of the dispersants used to break up the spill.

Last updated: July 28, 2014

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