Lophelia II 2009/NOAA Photo Library/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Shipwrecks may crumble faster after oil spills

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is famous for damaging natural environments, but it may also be threatening cultural and ecological treasures by speeding up how fast shipwrecks decay, Scientific American reports. To find out how contaminants from the spill might alter natural corrosion, the researchers conducted lab experiments with steel discs similar to the metal in many shipwrecks. Microorganisms corroded the metal more quickly when it was exposed to either oil alone or oil plus dispersants (the chemicals used in cleanup efforts). If the same thing happens at real shipwrecks, spilled oil could be making the artifacts crumble faster, damaging not only the ships, but also the coral ecosystems that have built up on top of them, say researchers.