Oil spill fingerprinting. Challenges and solutions.


Although the number of the accidental oil spills has decreased significantly during the past decades, operational spills still pose an important threat to marine and coastal ecosystems. The efficient and unambiguous source identification of these oil spills is the primary step in assessing their consequences and defining the response strategies but also from the standpoint of the enforcement of the pollution-control laws.
The most consistent methodology for oil spill characterization is based on the chemical fingerprinting approach, where a series of molecular markers can be profiled by gas chromatography (GC) coupled to mass spectrometry (MS). Characteristic distributions and ratios of selected ’diagnostic’ compounds generate an oil ’fingerprint’ which can be used to identify the source of the spilled oil. This methodology has been developed and improved since the last 10 years by the Bonn-Oil Spill Identification Network (OSINET).

However, once in the marine environment, any spilled oil undergoes a variety of physical, chemical, and biological processes (weathering), including evaporation, dissolution, microbial degradation and photooxidation, that modify the compositional patterns of the original oil. A fundamental understanding of these processes is essential for refining the diagnostic value of the source recognition indices and the correct interpretation of the profiles in tracking oil sources.

The presentation will illustrate recent developments in the interpretation of oil fingerprinting data that have contributed to the resolution of a number of specific cases, exemplified by the validation of remote detections (aerial, satellite), the study of accidental or intentional spills, particularly when multiple sources may occur (e.g. harbours) or different sources could be present (e.g. grounding).


Joan Albaigés

Prof. Joan Albaigés is Emeritus Professor of the Spanish Research Council (CSIC) in Barcelona (Spain) where he established in 1979 the Department of Environmental Chemistry.

He was appointed vice-chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee on the Prestige oil spill (2002) and coordinator of the European Networks on “Accidental Marine Pollution” (AMPERA) and "Towards integrated European marine research strategy and programs "(SEAS-ERA). He is also member of the oil spill identification expert group (OSINET) and the responsible for the Spanish reference laboratory for oil spill identification. He has contributed over 250 refereed articles to scientific journals, being Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Environmental Analytical Chemistry.

Dr. Albaigés also spent ten years as a Technical Advisor of the UNEP Regional Seas Program for promoting marine monitoring activities in developing countries, particularly in Latin America.

Prof. Albaigés has been elected member of the European Academy of Sciences and the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts.