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9. What Happens to Dispersed Oil?

Eventually, dispersed oil droplets degrade into naturally occurring substances. There is evidence that dispersed oil degrades more quickly than oil that has not been dispersed. This diagram illustrates how the oil may be processed in the marine ecosystem. First, the droplets of oil and dispersant are colonized by bacteria that then begin to degrade them. Next, protozoans and nematodes (small worms) join the colonies. Eventually, the oil may be further broken down and incorporated into the food web.

Diagram: The process of colonization takes place over a few weeks.
Last updated Tuesday, May 29, 2012 11:09am PDT