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Microbial populations and hydrocarbon biodegradation potentials in fertilized shoreline sediments affected by the T/V Exxon Valdez oil spill.

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  • Research Article
  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Medicine


The effort of clean up the T/V Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, included the use of fertilizers to accelerate natural microbial degradation of stranded oil. A program to monitor various environmental parameters associated with this technique took place during the summer of 1990. Microbiological assays for numbers of heterotrophic and oil-degrading microbes and their hydrocarbon mineralization potentials were performed in support of this program. Fertilizer addition resulted in higher hexadecane and phenanthrene mineralization potentials on treated plots than on untreated reference plots. Microbial numbers in treated and reference surface sediments were not significantly different immediately after the first nutrient application in May 1990. However, subsurface sediments from treated plots had higher numbers of hydrocarbon degraders than did reference sediments shortly after treatment. The second application of fertilizer, later in summer, resulted in surface and subsurface increases in numbers of hydrocarbon degraders with respect to reference sediments at two of the three study sites. Elevated mineralization potentials, coupled with increased numbers of hydrocarbon degraders, indicated that natural hydrocarbon biodegradation was enhanced. However, these microbiological measurements alone are not sufficient to determine in situ rates of crude oil biodegradation.

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