Oil spill source identification by principal component analysis of electrospray ionization Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectra. Academic Article uri icon


  • One fundamental challenge with either acute or chronic oil spills is to identify the source, especially in highly polluted areas, near natural oil seeps, when the source contains more than one petroleum product or when extensive weathering has occurred. Here we focus on heavy fuel oil that spilled (~200,000 L) from two suspected fuel tanks that were ruptured on the motor vessel (M/V) Cosco Busan when it struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in November 2007. We highlight the utility of principal component analysis (PCA) of elemental composition data obtained by high resolution FT-ICR mass spectrometry to correctly identify the source of environmental contamination caused by the unintended release of heavy fuel oil (HFO). Using ultrahigh resolution electrospray ionization (ESI) Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry, we uniquely assigned thousands of elemental compositions of heteroatom-containing species in neat samples from both tanks and then applied principal component analysis. The components were based on double bond equivalents for constituents of elemental composition, CcHhN1S1. To determine if the fidelity of our source identification was affected by weathering, field samples were collected at various intervals up to two years after the spill. We are able to identify a suite of polar petroleum markers that are environmentally persistent, enabling us to confidently identify that only one tank was the source of the spilled oil: in fact, a single principal component could account for 98% of the variance. Although identification is unaffected by the presence of higher polarity, petrogenic oxidation (weathering) products, future studies may require removal of such species by anion exchange chromatography prior to mass spectral analysis due to their preferential ionization by ESI.

publication date

  • October 1, 2013