Sunlight is a fundamental aspect for life to thrive in our planet. But it looks like the magnificent rays from the sun can also be a powerful weapon to clean up oil spills in the ocean, according to recent research.
1. Deepwater Horizon spill
Scientists believe that sunlight may have played a key part in cleaning as much as 17% of the oil slicking the surface of the Gulf of Mexico following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. The science-based discovery was announced on 16 February by Science Advances, suggesting that sunlight plays a bigger role in clearing oil spills than previously thought.
The researchers estimated irradiation helped dissolve from 3 to 17% of surface oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, comparable to processes such as evaporation and stranding on coastlines.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this finding is that it might impact our understanding of where else the oil is going, and whether the result is good or bad.Danielle Haas Freeman, lead author MIT/WHOI Joint Program student
“If this sizable fraction of oil is being transformed by sunlight and is dissolving into seawater, that might mean that less oil is ending up in other places, like sensitive coastal ecosystems. However, we have to consider the impacts of the compounds on marine organisms before we can decide if the net result is positive or negative,” added Freeman.
2. Marine ecosystem
When sunlight shines on spilled oil in the sea, it can trigger a chain of chemical reactions, transforming the oil into new compounds. As a result, oil is able to dissolve in water, a process called photo dissolution. However, there is little data on how much of the oil becomes water-soluble.
“While our findings suggest that a substantial fraction of surface oil can dissolve into the ocean after sunlight exposure, a logical next step is to evaluate its persistence and potential harm to aquatic animals”, concluded Collin Ward, co-author assistant scientist in WHOI’s Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department