The Gulf oil spill was an ecological disaster of unmitigated proportions — but some scientific good may come from it. As a side effect of this horrific incident, for the first time scientists have been able to observe how the oil becomes an aerosol, transferring from the sea to the air in an unspoiled environment.

What they found was that in addition to a concentrated plume of aerosols downwind from the spill which formed due to evaporation of the oil, there was a secondary, much larger plume, forged from the unmeasured, less volatile hydrocarbons that were emitted from a wider area around the spill. Until now, it wasn't certain that these heavier hydrocarbons would aerosolize at all.

This has given us a better, more depressing understanding of the true extent of air pollution released after oil spills and similar kinds of disasters.


Research published in Science