Research ArticleECOLOGY

Invisible oil beyond the Deepwater Horizon satellite footprint

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Science Advances  12 Feb 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 7, eaaw8863
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw8863


Major oil spills are catastrophic events that immensely affect the environment and society, yet determining their spatial extent is a highly complex task. During the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) blowout, ~149,000 km2 of the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) was covered by oil slicks and vast areas of the Gulf were closed for fishing. Yet, the satellite footprint does not necessarily capture the entire oil spill extent. Here, we use in situ observations and oil spill transport modeling to examine the full extent of the DWH spill, focusing on toxic-to-biota (i.e., marine organisms) oil concentration ranges. We demonstrate that large areas of the GoM were exposed to invisible and toxic oil that extended beyond the boundaries of the satellite footprint and the fishery closures. With a global increase in petroleum production–related activities, a careful assessment of oil spills’ full extent is necessary to maximize environmental and public safety.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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