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Acute toxicity of naturally and chemically dispersed oil on the filter-feeding copepod Calanus finmarchicus


Following oil spills in the marine environment, natural dispersion (by breaking waves) will form micron-sized oil droplets that disperse into the pelagic environment. Enhancing the dispersion process chemically will increase the oil concentration temporarily and result in higher bioavailability for pelagic organisms exposed to oil-dispersant plume. The toxicity of dispersed oil to pelagic organisms is a critical component in evaluating the net environmental consequences of dispersant use or non-use in open waters. To assess the potential for environmental effects, numerical models are being used, and for these to reliably predict the toxicity of chemically dispersed oil, it is essential to know if the dispersant affects the specific toxicity of the oil itself. In order to test the potential changes in specific toxicity of the oil due to the presence of chemical dispersant, copepods (Calanus finmarchicus) were subjected to a continuous exposure of chemically (4 percent Dasic w/w dispersant) and naturally dispersed oil (same droplet size range and composition) for four days. On average the addition of dispersant decreased 96 h LC50-values by a factor of 1.6, while for LC10 and LC90 these factors were 2.9 and 0.9, respectively. This indicates that after 96 h of exposure the dispersant slightly increased the specific toxicity of the oil at median and low effect levels, but reduced the toxicity at high effect levels. Decreased filtrations for the exposed groups were confirmed using particle counting and fluorescence microscopy. However, no differences in these endpoints were found between chemically and naturally dispersed oil. The ultimate goal was to evaluate if models used for risk and damage assessment can use similar specific toxicity for both chemically and naturally dispersed oil. The slight differences in toxicity between chemically and naturally dispersed oil suggest that risk assessment should be based on the whole concentration response curve to ensure survival of C. finmarchicus.


Academic article





  • SINTEF Ocean / Climate and Environment
  • Diverse norske bedrifter og organisasjoner
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology



Published in

Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety




Academic Press




38 - 46

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