Image above: MS student Priyam Sharma extracts contaminated soil with methylene chloride..
Photo Credit: Priyamvada Sharma.
Anticipated increases in offshore oil production could result in crude oil spills along arctic shorelines. To reduce adverse effects on the environment in the case of a spill, it is important to develop approaches to remove spilled oil. Bioremediation with addition of nutrients has shown promising results in enhancing oil degradation rates. This research focuses on determining the effect of different environmental conditions on the rate of biodegradation in laboratory experiments, as a proxy for oil spills on cold region seashores. Laboratory microcosms were set up containing beach sediments collected from Barrow, and spiked with North Slope Crude. These microcosms were incubated at varying temperatures, salinities and crude oil concentrations, all with a standard concentration of nutrients. Measurements of respiration rates (breakdown of hydrocarbons to CO2), hydrocarbons remaining in the sediment (GC/FID), hydrocarbons volatilized and sorbed to activated carbon (GC/MS), hydrocarbon degrading microorganisms (MPN), and nutrient concentrations were performed. A study at 20ºC has shown higher respiration rates in microcosms with higher crude oil concentration and salinity. Lower temperature studies are currently being performed. This study will help to facilitate appropriate response to oil spills along arctic coastlines.