Air quality implications of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Ann M. Middlebrook, Daniel M. Murphy, Ravan Ahmadov, Elliot L. Atlas, Roya Bahreini, Donald R. Blake, Jerome Brioude, Joost A. De Gouw, Fred C. Fehsenfeld, Gregory J. Frost, John S. Holloway, Daniel A. Lack, Justin M. Langridge, Rich A. Lueb, Stuart A. McKeen, James F. Meagher, Simone Meinardi, J. Andrew Neuman, John B. Nowak, David D. ParrishJeff Peischl, Anne E. Perring, Ilana B. Pollack, James M. Roberts, Thomas B. Ryerson, Joshua P. Schwarz, J. Ryan Spackman, Carsten Warneke, A. R. Ravishankara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


During the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, a wide range of gas and aerosol species were measured from an aircraft around, downwind, and away from the DWH site. Additional hydrocarbon measurements were made from ships in the vicinity. Aerosol particles of respirable sizes were on occasions a significant air quality issue for populated areas along the Gulf Coast. Yields of organic aerosol particles and emission factors for other atmospheric pollutants were derived for the sources from the spill, recovery, and cleanup efforts. Evaporation and subsequent secondary chemistry produced organic particulate matter with a mass yield of 8 ± 4% of the oil mixture reaching the water surface. Approximately 4% by mass of oil burned on the surface was emitted as soot particles. These yields can be used to estimate the effects on air quality for similar events as well as for this spill at other times without these data. Whereas emission of soot from burning surface oil was large during the episodic burns, the mass flux of secondary organic aerosol to the atmosphere was substantially larger overall. We use a regional air quality model to show that some observed enhancements in organic aerosol concentration along the Gulf Coast were likely due to the DWH spill. In the presence of evaporating hydrocarbons from the oil, NOx emissions from the recovery and cleanup operations produced ozone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20280-20285
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 11 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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