The blowout at the Ixtoc 1 offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico (19°24′ N, 92°12′ W) produced a major oil spill. An estimated 140 million gallons of oil escaped before the well was finally capped1; this compares with a spill of 66 million gallons of oil from the tanker Amoco Cadiz2,3. In contrast to the rapid, close-to-shore release of the tanker's cargo, the Ixtoc 1 well released oil for 9 months into the open ocean where winds and currents dispersed the floating mousse (a light brown and orange water-in-oil emulsion) which had formed at the wellhead. Two and a half months after the blowout the western boundary current in the Gulf of Mexico4,5 had brought mousse to the American shore. An ultra-thin sheen also formed from the oil and was visible as a smoothness of sea-surface texture relative to the slightly rougher unpolluted waters. We report here that at a distance of 750–1,000 km from the well, Ixtoc 1 mousse occurred on sheen-covered sea surface primarily as gramme-sized pancakes and milligramme-sized flakes. Relative to pancakes, flakes were more dense, depleted in aliphatic compounds and enriched in polar compounds. Both particles were covered with a brittle 5–10 µm skin. Pancakes, skin, flakes and surface sheen seem to represent the four macroscopic component parts of a pelagic weathering cycle of Ixtoc 1 mousse.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
An impaired metabolic response to hydrostatic pressure explains Alcanivorax borkumensis recorded distribution in the deep marine water column
Scientific Reports Open Access 12 August 2016
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 51 print issues and online access
$199.00 per year
only $3.90 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Prices vary by article type
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Oil Spill Intelligence Reports Vol. 2, No. 22 (1979)–Vol. 3 No. 13 (1980).
Sponner, M. F. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 9, 281–284 (1978).
Butler, J. N. Ocean. Ind., October 101–112 (1978).
Sturges, W. & Blaha, J. P. Science 192, 367–369 (1976).
Molinari, R. L. J. phys. Oceanogr. 8, 779–784 (1978).
Pequegnat, L. H. Contr. mar. Sci. 22, 31–39 (1979).
Kleinhofs, A., Owais, W. M. & Nilan, R. A. Mutat. Res. 55, 165–195 (1978).
Eley, D. D., Key, M. H., Symonds, J. D. & Willison, J. H. M. J. Coll. Interface Sci. 54, 462–467 (1976).
Boehm, P. D., Fiest, D. L., Mackay, D. & Paterson, S. in Proc. 1981 Oil Spill Conf. (American Petroleum Institute, 1981).
Overton, E. B. et al., in Proc. Conf. on the Preliminary Scientific Findings of the Researcher/Pierce cruise to the Ixtoc 1 Blowout (NOAA, Washington DC).
Horn, M. H., Teal, J. M. & Backus, R. H. Science 168, 245–246 (1970).
Heyerdahl, T. Biol. Conserv. 3, 164–167 (1971).
Zolsnay, A. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 8, 116–117 (1970).
Petroleum in the Marine Environment, 48 (National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC, 1975).
Eagle, G. A., Green, A. & Williams, J. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 10, 321–325 (1979).
Jeffrey, L. M., Peguegnat, W. E., Kennedy, E. A., Vos, A. & James, B. M. NBS Spec. Publ. Marine Pollution Monitoring 409, 233–235 (1974).
Butler, J. N. & Harris, J. C. Mar. Chem. 3, 1–7 (1975).
Butler, J. N., Morris, B. F. & Sass, J. Spec. Publ. Bermuda Biological Station for Research 10, 1–346 (1973).
Larson, R. A., Bott, T. L., Hunt, L. L. & Rogenmuser, K. Envir. Sci. Technol. 13, 965–969 (1979).
Hansen, H. P. Mar. Chem. 3, 183–188 (1975).
Perry, J. J. Microbiol. Rev. 43, 59–72 (1979).
Wade, T. L. & Quinn, J. G. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 6, 54–57 (1975).
Butler, J. N. Mar. Chem. 3, 9–21 (1975).
Morris, B. F., Butler, J. N., Sleeter, T. D. & Cadwallader, J. Rapp P.-V. Reun. Cons. Int. Explor. Mer. 171, 107–116 (1977).
Audunson, T. Mar. Envir. Res. 3, 35–61 (1980).
Forrester, W. D. J. Mar. Res. 39, 151–170 (1971).
Farrington, J. W. & Tripp, B. W. in Marine chemistry in the Coastal Environment (ed. Church, T. M.) 267–284 (American Chemical Society, Washington DC, 1975).
About this article
Cite this article
Patton, J., Rigler, M., Boehm, P. et al. Ixtoc 1 oil spill: flaking of surface mousse in the Gulf of Mexico. Nature 290, 235–238 (1981). https://doi.org/10.1038/290235a0