The expanded footprint of the Deepwater horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico deep-sea benthos


The 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout off the coast of Louisiana caused the largest marine oil spill on record. Samples were collected 2–3 months after the Macondo well was capped to assess damage to macrofauna and meiofauna communities. An earlier analysis of 58 stations demonstrated severe and moderate damage to an area of 148 km2. An additional 58 archived stations have been analyzed to enhance the resolution of that assessment and determine if impacts occurred further afield. Impacts included high levels of total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in the sediment, low diversity, low evenness, and low taxonomic richness of the infauna communities. High nematode to copepod ratios corroborated the severe disturbance of meiofauna communities. Additionally, barium levels near the wellhead were very high because of drilling activities prior to the accident. A principal component analysis (PCA) was used to summarize oil spill impacts at stations near the Macondo well, and the benthic footprint of the DWH oil spill was estimated using Empirical Bayesian Kriging (EBK) interpolation. An area of approximately 263 km2 around the wellhead was affected, which is 78% higher than the original estimate. Particularly severe damages to benthic communities were found in an area of 58 km2, which is 142% higher than the original estimate. The addition of the new stations extended the area of the benthic footprint map to about twice as large as originally thought and improved the resolution of the spatial interpolation. In the future, increasing the spatial extent of sampling should be a top priority for designing assessment studies.



deepwater horizon, horizon, oil spill, gulf of mexico, deep-sea benthos



Attribution 4.0 International


Reuscher, M.G., Baguley, J.G. and Montagna, P.A., 2020. The expanded footprint of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico deep-sea benthos. PloS one, 15(6), p.e0235167.