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Detecting oil in the northern Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill presented unique challenges due to the spatial and temporal extent of the spill and the subsequent dilution of oil in the environment. Over time, physical, chemical, and biological processes altered the composition of the oil, further complicating its detection. Reservoir fluid, containing gas and oil, released from the Macondo well was detected in surface and subsurface environments. Oil monitoring during and after the spill required a variety of technologies, including nimble adaptation of techniques developed for non-oil-related applications. The oil detection technologies employed varied in sensitivity, selectivity, strategy, cost, usability, expertise of user, and reliability. Innovative technologies ranging from remote sensing to laboratory analytical techniques were employed and produced new information relevant to oil spill detection, including the chemical characterization, the dispersion effectiveness, and the detection limits of oil. The challenge remains to transfer these new technologies to oil spill responders so that detection of oil following a spill can be improved.

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Oceanography, v. 29, issue 3, p. 76–87