Oceanographic controls of hydrocarbon degradation in the Gulf of Mexico
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The risk of an oil spill accident is increasing in pristine regions of the world’s oceans due to the development and transport of crude oil resources. The ability to predict the trajectory of spilled oil is critical for the development of contingency plans. Although the controls of petroleum hydrocarbon biodegradation have been studied in the oceans for decades, there is as yet no consensus on the results for predictive modeling. One explanation for this knowledge gap is the complex interaction between oceanographic controls of the hydrocarbon degradation process. In this dissertation, ex situ incubation of environmental samples was employed to quantify the potential for hydrocarbon biodegradation across gradients in controlling factors, including dispersant application, mixing energy, temperature, nutrient availability, pressure, and microbial community composition. Observations indicate that degradation potential is largely determined by adaptations of the autochthonous microbial community to the marine environment and the mechanisms that regulate microbial activity are discussed.