The interaction of oil and sediment in the environment determines, to a large extent, the trajectory and fate of oil. Using confocal microscope imaging techniques to obtain detailed 3D structures of oil-particle aggregates (OPAs) formed in turbulent flows, we elucidated a new mechanism of particle attachment, whereby the particles behave as projectiles penetrating the oil droplets to depths varying from ∼2 to 10 μm due to the hydrodynamic forces in the water. This mechanism results in a higher attachment of particles on oil in comparison with adsorption, as commonly assumed. The projectile hypothesis also explains the fragmentation of oil droplets with time, which occurred after long hours of mixing, leading to the formation of massive OPA clusters. Various lines of inquiry strongly suggested that protruding particles get torn from oil droplets and carry oil with them, causing the torn particles to be amphiphillic so that they contribute to the formation of massive OPAs of smaller oil droplets (<∼5-10 μm). Low particle concentration resulted in large, irregularly shaped oil blobs over time, the deformation of which without fragmentation could be due to partial coverage of the oil droplet surface by particles. The findings herein revealed a new pathway for the fate of oil in environments containing non-negligible sediment concentrations.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Chemistry