Crude oil biodegradation in upper and supratidal seashores

Charbel Abou Khalil, Nathalie Fortin, Roger C. Prince, Charles W. Greer, Kenneth Lee, Michel C. Boufadel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The salinity of the upper parts of seashores can become higher than seawater due to evaporation between tidal inundations. Such hypersaline ecosystems, where the salinity can reach up to eight-fold higher than that of seawater (30–35 g/L), can be contaminated by oil spills. Here we investigate whether such an increase has inhibitory effects on oil biodegradation. Seawater was evaporated to a concentrated brine and added to fresh seawater to generate high salinity microcosms. Artificially weathered Hibernia crude oil was added, and biodegradation was followed for 76 days. First-order rate constants (k) for the biodegradation of GC-detectable hydrocarbons showed that the hydrocarbonoclastic activity was substantially inhibited at high salt – k decreased by ~75% at 90 g/L salts and ~90% at 160 g/L salts. This inhibition was greatest for the alkanes, although it extended to all classes of compounds measured, with the smallest effect on four-ring aromatics (e.g., chrysenes). Genera of well-known aerobic hydrocarbonoclastic bacteria were only identified at 30 g/L salts in the presence of oil, and only a few halophilic Archaea showed a slight enrichment at higher salt concentrations. These results indicate that biodegradation of spilled oil will likely be slowed in supratidal ecosystems and suggest that occasional irrigation of oiled supratidal zones could be a useful supporting strategy to remediation processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number125919
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
StatePublished - Aug 15 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


  • Hypersaline coastal ecosystems
  • Oiled beaches
  • Petroleum hydrocarbons
  • Salinity
  • Supratidal zone
  • Upper intertidal zone


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