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Formation, Fate, and Impacts of Microscopic and Macroscopic Oil-Sediment Residues in Nearshore Marine Environments: A Critical Review


Crude oil that is spilled in marine environments often interacts with suspended sediments to form residues that can impact the recovery of the affected nearshore ecosystems. When spilled oil and sediment interact, they can form either small microscopic aggregates, commonly referred to as oil-particle aggregates, or large macroscopic agglomerates, referred to as sediment-oil agglomerates or sediment-oil mats. Although these different sized oil-sediment residues have similar compositions, they are formed under different conditions and have different fates in nearshore environments; the goal of this review is to synthesize our current understanding of these two types of residues. We believe that researchers who focus solely on studying either microscopic aggregates or macroscopic agglomerates could benefit from understanding the research findings available in the other field. In this study, we compare and contrast various processes that control the formation, fate, and impacts of these two types of residues in nearshore environments and point out some of the knowledge gaps in this field. Additionally, these residues have been referred to by many names in the past, leading to confusion and misconceptions at times. In this effort, we recommend a uniform nomenclature to distinguish them based on their physical size. Our overall aim is to bridge the gap between microscopic and macroscopic oil-sediment residue literature to foster a robust exchange of ideas, which we believe can lead to the development of efficient strategies for managing oil spills that affect nearshore environments.