Post-Formation of Oil Particle Aggregates: Breakup and Biodegradation

Wen Ji, Charbel Abou-Khalil, Meghana Parameswarappa Jayalakshmamma, Michel Boufadel, Kenneth Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Spilled oil slicks are likely to break into droplets in the subtidal and intertidal zones of seashores due to wave energy. The nonliving suspended fine particles in coastal ecosystems can interact with the dispersed oil droplets, resulting in the formation of Oil Particle Aggregates (OPAs). Many investigations assumed that these aggregates will settle due to the particles’ high density. Recent studies, however, reported that some particles penetrate the oil droplets, which results in further breakup while forming smaller OPAs that remain suspended in the water column. Here, we investigated the interaction of crude oil droplets with intertidal and subtidal sediments, as well as artificial pure kaolinite, in natural seawater. Results showed that the interaction between oil droplets and intertidal sediments was not particularly stable, with an Oil Trapping Efficiency (OTE) < 25%. When using subtidal sediments, OTE reached 56%. With artificial kaolinite, OPA formation and breakup were more significant (OTE reaching up to 67%) and occurred faster (within 12 h). Oil chemistry analysis showed that the biodegradation of oil in seawater (half-life of 485 h) was significantly enhanced with the addition of sediments, with half-lives of 305, 265, and 150 h when adding intertidal sediments, subtidal sediments, and pure kaolinite, respectively. Such results reveal how the sediments’ shape and size affect the various oil-sediment interaction mechanisms, and the subsequent impact on the microbial degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons. Future studies should consider investigating the application of fine (several microns) and sharp (elongated-sheeted) sediments as a nondestructive and nontoxic technique for dispersing marine oil spills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2341-2350
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 14 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


  • Natural minerals
  • coastal sediments
  • droplet size distribution
  • marine oil spills
  • microbial degradation
  • oil trapping efficiency


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