Skip to main content

Oil pollution in the North Sea—a microbiological point of view

Abstract

In this study we determined oil degradation rates in the North Sea under most natural conditions. We used the heavy fuel oil, Bunker C, the major oil pollutant of the North Sea, as the model oil. Experiments were conducted in closed systems with water sampled during winter and repeated under identical conditions with water collected during summer. No nitrogen or phosphorous was added and conditions were chosen such that neither oxygen nor nutrients, present in the water, would become limiting during the experiments. We detected a fourfold increased degradation rate for water samples taken in summer (18°C water temperature) as compared to water sampled in winter (4°C water temperature). Under the assumption that biodegradation of oil can be regarded as a Michaelis-Menten type kinetic reaction, the kinectic constants Vmax and KM were determined for oil biodegradation at 4°C and 18°C. At both temperatures KM was about 40 ppm, whereas Vmax was 3–4 times higher at 18°C. From both Vmax and the results of fermentation studies, we determined the maximum rates of Bunker C oil degradation in the North Sea as ∼20 g m−3a−1 at 4°C in winter and 60–80 g m−3a−1 at 18°C in summer. Furthermore, while over 25% of the oil was degraded within 6 weeks in summer, only 6.6% of the oil was degraded in winter. A higher incubation temperature in winter (18°C) increased both the rate and the percentage of oil degraded, but degradation did not reach the level obtained during the summer. While these data reflect the oxidation only of the hydrocarbons, we conducted experiments directly in the open sea to determine the contribution of abiotic factors to oil removal. Approximately 42% of the oil was lost within 6 weeks under these conditions in summer and 65% in winter. However, GC-MS analysis of the recovered oil showed no significant change in the alkane pattern that would indicate enhanced degradation. Thus, mainly abiotic factors such as erosion and dispersion rather than degradation were responsible for enhanced oil removal. Especially the high loss during winter can be attributed to frequent storms resulting in greater dispersion. In conclusion, the higher oil degrading potential of the microbial population in the North Sea was represented by a four times faster oil degradation during the summer. In-situ experiments showed that abiotic factors can have an equal (summer) or even higher (winter) impact on oil removal.

Literature Cited

  • Atlas, R. M. (Ed.), 1984. Petroleum microbiology. Macmillan, New York, 692 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Atlas, R. M., 1991. Microbial hydrocarbon degradation — bioremediation of oil spills. — J. chem. Technol. Biotechnol.52, 149–156.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Bossert, I. & Bartha, R., 1984. The fate of petroleum in soil ecosystems. In: Petroleum microbiology. Ed. by R. M. Atlas. Macmillan, New York, 434–476.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dahlmann, G., 1985. Herkunft der Ölverschmutzungen an der deutschen Nordseeküste. — Seevögel6 (Sonderbd.), 73–80.

    Google Scholar 

  • Floodgate, G. D., 1984. The fate of petroleum in marine ecosystems. In: Petroleum microbiology. Ed. by R. M. Atlas, Macmillan, New York, 355–397.

    Google Scholar 

  • Galt, J. A., Hehr, W. J. & Payton, D. L., 1991. Fate and transport of the “Exxon Valdez” oil spill. Environ. Sci. Technol.25, 202–209.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Gibbs, C. F., 1975. Quantitative studies on marine biodegradation of oil. I: Nutrient limitation at 14°C. — Proc. R. Soc. (Ser. B)188, 61–82.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Gibbs, C. F. & Davis, S. J., 1976. The rate of microbial degradation of oil in beach gravel column. —Microb. Ecol.3, 55–64.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Gillbricht, M., 1985. Hydrographie, Nährstoffe und Phytoplankton bei Helgoland. — Jber. Biol. Anst. Helgoland1984, 27–30.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gunkel, W., 1964. Einwirkungen des kalten Winters 1962/63 auf die Bakterienpopulation vor Helgoland. — Helgoländer wiss. Meeresunters.10, 246–256.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gunkel, W., 1967. Experimentell-ökologische Untersuchungen über die limitierenden Faktoren des mikrobiellen Ölabbaus im marinen Milieu. — Helgoländer wiss. Meeresunters.16, 210–225.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gunkel, W. & Trekel, H. H., 1967. Zur Methodik der quantitativen Erfassung ölabbauender Bakterien in verölten Sedimenten und Böden, Öl-Wassergemischen und teerartigen Substanzen. — Helgoländer wiss. Meeresunters.16, 336–348.

    Google Scholar 

  • Halmo, G., 1985. Enhanced biodegradation of oil. In: Proceedings of the 1985 Oil Spill Conference, Los Angeles, California. American Petroleum Institute, Washington, 531–537.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnston, R., 1970. The decomposition of crude-oil residues in sand columns. — J. mar. biol. Ass. U. K.50, 925–937.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Kalle, K., 1939. Einige Verbesserungen zur Bestimmung des gelösten Sauerstoffs im Meerwasser. —Annln Hydrogr., Berlin67, 267–269.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leahy, J. G. & Colwell, R. R., 1990. Microbial degradation of hydrocarbons in the environment. —Microbiol. Rev.54, 305–315.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lindstrom, J. E., Prince, R. C., Clark, J. C., Grossman, M. J., Yeager, T. R., Braddock, J. F. & Brown, E. J., 1991. Microbial populations and hydrocarbon biodegradation potentials in fertilized shoreline sediments affected by the T/V “Exxon Valdez” oil spill. — Appl. environ. Microbiol.57, 2514–2522.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Minas, W., Gunkel, W. & Tadday, G., 1986. An open flow-through chamber system — a new tool for experimental ecological investigations in the marine sublittoral. — Mar. environ. Res.20, 299–305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • National Research Council (Ed.), 1985. Oil in the sea. National Academy Press, Washington, 601 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Peach, K. & Tracey, M. V., 1955. Moderne Methoden der Pflanzenanalyse. Springer, Heidelberg2, 421–431.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rao, U. R., Chamdrasekhar, M. G., Radhakrishnan, K., Jayaraman, V., Desai, P. S., Pal, P. K. & Joshi, P. C., 1991. Environmental impacts of the Persian Gulf oil spill and oil-fire smoke. —Curr. Sci.60, 486–492.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reineking, B., 1984. Zum Seevogelsterben durch Ölpest an der deutschen Nordseeküste im Winter 1982/83. — Seevögel5, 43–49.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sieburth, J. McN., 1967. Seasonal selection of estuarine bacteria by water temperature. — J. Exp. mar. Biol. Ecol.1, 98–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tramier, B. & Sirvins, A., 1983. Enhanced oil biodegradation: a new operational tool to oil spills. In: Proceedings of the 1983 Oil Spill Conference, San Antonio, Texas. American Petroleum Institute, Washington, 115–119.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tromp, D. & Coenen, R. C. A., 1991. The third international conference on the protection of the North Sea — review and challenges. — Wat. Sci. Technol.24, XV-XX.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vauk, G., 1984. Oil pollution dangers on the German coast. — Mar. Pollut. Bull.15, 89–93.

    Google Scholar 

  • Walker, J. D., Petrakis, L. & Colwell, R. R., 1975. Comparison of the biodegradability of crude and fuel oils. — Can. J. Microbiol.22, 598–602.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ward, D., Atlar, R. M., Boehm, D. K. & Calder, J. A., 1980. Microbial degradation and the chemical evolution of “Amoco Cadiz” oil pollutants. — Ambio9, 277–283.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • ZoBell, C. E., 1940. The effects of oxygen tension on the rate of oxidation of organic matter in seawater by bacteria. — J. mar. Res.3, 211–223.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Minas, W., Gunkel, W. Oil pollution in the North Sea—a microbiological point of view. Helgolander Meeresunters 49, 143–158 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02368345

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02368345

Keywords

  • Abiotic Factor
  • Frequent Storm
  • Great Dispersion
  • High Incubation Temperature
  • Degrading Potential