Biodegradability of legacy crude oil contamination in Gulf War damaged groundwater wells in Northern Kuwait

  • Melanie C. Bruckberger
  • Matthew J. Morgan
  • Tom Walsh
  • Trevor P. Bastow
  • Henning Prommer
  • Amitabha Mukhopadhyay
  • Anna H. Kaksonen
  • Greg Davis
  • Geoffrey J. PuzonEmail author
Original Paper


During the 1991 Gulf War, oil wells in the oil fields of Kuwait were set aflame and destroyed. This resulted in severe crude oil pollution of the countries only fresh water aquifers. Here, for the first time the natural attenuation and biodegradation of the persisting groundwater contamination was investigated to assess potential processes in the aquifer. Biodegradation experiments were conducted under aerobic and multiple anaerobic conditions using microcosms of the contaminated groundwater from Kuwait. Under the conditions tested, a portion of the total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) component was degraded, however there was only a slight change in the bulk concentration of the contaminant measured as dissolved organic carbon (DOC), suggesting the presence of a recalcitrant pollutant. Changes in the associated microbial community composition under different reduction–oxidation conditions were observed and known hydrocarbon degraders identified. The results of this study indicate that lingering contaminant still persists in the groundwater and is recalcitrant to further biodegradation, which presents challenges for future remediation plans.


Groundwater Hydrocarbons Biodegradation Kuwait Polar compounds Gulf War 



The Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research is acknowledged for the funding this work. Yasuko Geste is thanked for technical help with chemistry aspects. Naomi Boxall, Brent Peyton and Deirdre Gleeson are thanked for valuable review and comments on the manuscript.


This research did not receive any specific Grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 12 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PDF 227 kb)
10532_2019_9867_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (9 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 8 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melanie C. Bruckberger
    • 1
    • 2
  • Matthew J. Morgan
    • 3
  • Tom Walsh
    • 3
  • Trevor P. Bastow
    • 1
  • Henning Prommer
    • 1
  • Amitabha Mukhopadhyay
    • 4
  • Anna H. Kaksonen
    • 1
  • Greg Davis
    • 1
  • Geoffrey J. Puzon
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.CSIRO Land and Water, Centre for Environment and Life SciencesWembleyAustralia
  2. 2.UWA School of Agriculture and EnvironmentUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  3. 3.CSIRO Land and Water, Black Mountain LaboratoriesCanberraAustralia
  4. 4.Water Research CenterKuwait Institute for Scientific ResearchSafatKuwait

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