Fingerprinting petroleum hydrocarbons in plankton and surface sediments during the spring and early summer blooms in the Galician coast (NW Spain) after the Prestige oil spill

N Salas, L Ortiz, M Gilcoto, M Varela, J M Bayona, S Groom, X A Alvarez-Salgado, J Albaigés
Marine Environmental Research 2006, 62 (5): 388-413
Plankton samples (20-350 microm and >350 microm) collected at three transects along the Galician coast (NW Spain) were analysed for individual aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons by GC-MS. Sample collection was performed in April-July 2003, after the Prestige oil spill (November 2002), to determine whether the hydrocarbons released into the water column as a consequence of the spill were accumulated by the planktonic communities during the subsequent spring and early summer blooms. Surface sediments were also collected to assess the presence of the spilled oil, removed from the water column by downward particle transport. Plankton concentrations of PAHs (Sigma14 parent components) were in the range of 25-898 ng g(-1)dw, the highest values being close to coastal urban areas. However, the individual distributions were highly dominated by alkyl naphthalenes and phenanthrenes, paralleling those in the water dissolved fraction. The detailed study of petrogenic molecular markers (e.g. steranes and triterpanes, and methyl phenanthrenes and dibenzothiophenes) showed the occurrence of background petrogenic pollution but not related with the Prestige oil, with the possible exception of the station off Costa da Morte in May 2003, heavily oiled after the accident. The dominant northerly wind conditions during the spring and early summer 2003, which prevented the arrival of fresh oil spilled from the wreck, together with the heavy nature of the fuel oil, which was barely dispersed in seawater, and the large variability of planktonic cycles, could be the factors hiding the acute accumulation of the spilled hydrocarbons. Then, with the above exception, the concentrations of PAHs found in the collected samples, mostly deriving from chronic pollution, can be considered as the reference values for the region.

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