Chemical data quantify Deepwater Horizon hydrocarbon flow rate and environmental distribution

Thomas B. Ryerson, Richard Camilli, John D. Kessler, Elizabeth B. Kujawinski, Christopher M. Reddy, David L. Valentine, Elliot Atlas, Donald R. Blake, Joost De Gouw, Simone Meinardi, David D. Parrish, Jeff Peischl, Jeffrey S. Seewald, Carsten Warneke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

215 Scopus citations


Detailed airborne, surface, and subsurface chemical measurements, primarily obtained in May and June 2010, are used to quantify initial hydrocarbon compositions along different transport pathways (i.e., in deep subsurface plumes, in the initial surface slick, and in the atmosphere) during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Atmospheric measurements are consistent with a limited area of surfacing oil, with implications for leaked hydrocarbon mass transport and oil drop size distributions. The chemical data further suggest relatively little variation in leaking hydrocarbon composition over time. Although readily soluble hydrocarbons made up ∼25% of the leaking mixture by mass, subsurface chemical data show these compounds made up ∼69% of the deep plume mass; only ∼31% of the deep plume mass was initially transported in the form of trapped oil droplets. Mass flows along individual transport pathways are also derived from atmospheric and subsurface chemical data. Subsurface hydrocarbon composition, dissolved oxygen, and dispersant data are used to assess release of hydrocarbons from the leaking well. We use the chemical measurements to estimate that (7.8 ± 1.9) x 106 kg of hydrocarbons leaked on June 10, 2010, directly accounting for roughly three-quarters of the total leaked mass on that day. The average environmental release rate of (10.1 ± 2.0) x 106 kg/d derived using atmospheric and subsurface chemical data agrees within uncertainties with the official average leak rate of (10.2 ± 1.0) x 106 kg/d derived using physical and optical methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20246-20253
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 11 2012


  • Deepwater blowout
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Marine hydrocarbon partitioning
  • Oil spill flow rate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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