Molecular evidence of heavy-oil weathering following the M/V Cosco Busan spill: insights from Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry. Academic Article uri icon


  • Recent studies have highlighted a critical need to investigate oil weathering beyond the analytical window afforded by conventional gas chromatography (GC). In particular, techniques capable of detecting polar and higher molecular weight (HMW; > 400 Da) components abundant in crude and heavy fuel oils (HFOs) as well as transformation products. Here, we used atmospheric pressure photoionization Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (APPI FT-ICR MS) to identify molecular transformations in oil-residue samples from the 2007 M/V Cosco Busan HFO spill (San Francisco, CA). Over 617 days, the abundance and diversity of oxygen-containing compounds increased relative to the parent HFO, likely from bio- and photodegradation. HMW, highly aromatic, alkylated compounds decreased in relative abundance concurrent with increased relative abundance of less alkylated stable aromatic structures. Combining these results with GC-based data yielded a more comprehensive understanding of oil spill weathering. For example, dealkylation trends and the overall loss of HMW species observed by FT-ICR MS has not previously been documented and is counterintuitive given losses of lower molecular weight species observed by GC. These results suggest a region of relative stability at the interface of these techniques, which provides new indicators for studying long-term weathering and identifying sources.

publication date

  • April 1, 2014