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Environ Pollut. 2006 Feb;139(3):523-31. Epub 2005 Aug 10.

GC and GC-MS characterization of crude oil transformation in sediments and microbial mat samples after the 1991 oil spill in the Saudi Arabian Gulf coast.

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Department of Environmental Chemistry, Institute of Chemical and Environmental Research (CSIC), Jordi Girona 18, 08034 Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.


The massive oil discharge in the Saudi Arabian coast at the end of the 1991 Gulf War is used here as a natural experiment to study the ability of microbial mats to transform oil residues after major spills. The degree of oil transformation has been evaluated from the analysis of the aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons by gas chromatography (GC) and GC coupled to mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The oil-polluted microbial mat samples from coastal environments exhibited an intermediate degree of transformation between that observed in superficial and deep sediments. Evaporation, photo-oxidation and water-washing seemed to lead to more effective and rapid elimination of hydrocarbons than cyanobacteria and its associated microorganisms. Furthermore, comparison of some compounds (e.g. regular isoprenoid hydrocarbons or alkylnaphthalenes) in the oil collected in the area after the spill or in the mixtures retained by cyanobacterial growth gave rise to an apparent effect of hydrocarbon preservation in the microbial mat ecosystems.

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