Researchers at Arctic Research Centre of University of Aarhus have come up with the first assessment of causes of microbial degradation in seawaters off Greenland. These researchers have identified six factors challenging microbial action in Arctic seas.
With new economic developments such as oil exploration activities and trans-Arctic shipping, the Arctic is posed to unprecedented risk of marine oil spills. This calls for thorough understanding of the adaptability and self-cleaning capability of Arctic ecosystems to weather from marine oil spills.
While extensive efforts are undertaken to clean large oil spills, mechanical methods employed are effective to clean up only 15 to 25% of oil. This has been ascertained in major oil spills such as the one in Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico and Exxon Valdez in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. In these oil disasters, oil-feeding microbes played a pivotal role in degrading the oil and lowering the impact of spilled oil.
Cold Temperatures Prevent Oil Dispersion to hamper Microbial Action
As a matter of fact, low temperatures affects by altering spilled oil’s chemical properties and slows down biodegradation. Cold oil, for example, is more viscous that hampers oil dispersion. Such conditions of non-dispersion of oil in small droplets decreases efficiency of microbial degradation. Waves also play a pivotal role to break oil into small droplets. However, presence of sea ice makes for less or no waves.
The Arctic ecosystem generally contains very low concentration of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Oil does not contain these nutrients, therefore oil-feeding bacteria need to find them in water. On the other hand, some nutrients result in lowering action of oil-feeding bacteria.