Since the Exxon Valdez accident in 1987, renewed interest has come forth to better understand and predict the fate and transport of crude oil lost to marine environments. The short-term fate of an Arabian Crude oil was simulated in laboratory experiments using artificial seawater. The time-dependent changes in the rheological and chemical properties of the oil under the influence of natural weathering processes were characterized, including dispersion behavior of the oil under simulated ocean turbulence. Methodology included monitoring the changes in the chemical composition of the oil by Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GCMS), toxicity evaluations for the oil dispersions by Microtox analysis, and quantification of dispersed soluble aromatics by fluorescence spectrometry.
Results for this oil show a sharp initial increase in viscosity, due to evaporative losses of lower molecular weight hydrocarbons, with the formation of stable water-in-oil emulsions occurring within one week. Toxicity evaluations indicate a decreased EC-50 value (higher toxicity) occurring after the oil has weathered eight hours, with maximum toxicity being observed after weathering seven days. Particle charge distributions, determined by electrophoretic techniques using a Coulter DELSA 440, reveal that an unstable oil dispersion exists within the size range of 1.5 to 2.5 um, with recombination processes being observed between sequential laser runs of a single sample.