Aggregation and Degradation of Dispersants and Oil by Microbial Exopolymers (ADDOMEx): Toward a Synthesis of Processes and Pathways of Marine Oil Snow Formation in Determining the Fate of Hydrocarbons Academic Article uri icon


  • Microbes (bacteria, phytoplankton) in the ocean are responsible for the copious production of exopolymeric substances (EPS) that include transparent exopolymeric particles. These materials act as a matrix to form marine snow. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, marine oil snow (MOS) formed in massive quantities and influenced the fate and transport of oil in the ocean. The processes and pathways of MOS formation require further elucidation to be better understood, in particular we need to better understand how dispersants affect aggregation and degradation of oil. Toward that end, recent work has characterized EPS as a function of microbial community and environmental conditions. We present a conceptual model that incorporates recent findings in our understanding of the driving forces of MOS sedimentation and flocculent accumulation (MOSSFA) including factors that influence the scavenging of oil into MOS and the routes that promote decomposition of the oil post MOS formation. In particular, the model incorporates advances in our understanding of processes that control interactions between oil, dispersant, and EPS in producing either MOS that can sink or dispersed gels promoting microbial degradation of oil compounds. A critical element is the role of protein to carbohydrate ratios (P/C ratios) of EPS in the aggregation process of colloid and particle formation. The P/C ratio of EPS provides a chemical basis for the stickiness factor that is used in analytical or numerical simulations of the aggregation process. This factor also provides a relative measure for the strength of attachment of EPS to particle surfaces. Results from recent laboratory experiments demonstrate (i) the rapid formation of microbial assemblages, including their EPS, on oil droplets that is enhanced in the presence of Corexit-dispersed oil, and (ii) the subsequent rapid oil oxidation and microbial degradation in water. These findings, combined with the conceptual model, further improve our understanding of the fate of the sinking MOS (e.g., subsequent sedimentation and preservation/degradation) and expand our ability to predict the behavior and transport of spilled oil in the ocean, and the potential effects of Corexit application, specifically with respect to MOS processes (i.e., formation, fate, and half-lives) and Marine Oil Snow Sedimentation and Flocculent Accumulation.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 2.1

author list (cited authors)

  • Quigg, A., Santschi, P. H., Xu, C., Ziervogel, K., Kamalanathan, M., Chin, W., ... Hatcher, P. G.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Quigg, Antonietta||Santschi, Peter H||Xu, Chen||Ziervogel, Kai||Kamalanathan, Manoj||Chin, Wei-Chun||Burd, Adrian B||Wozniak, Andrew||Hatcher, Patrick G

publication date

  • July 2021