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Korea Institute of Ocean Science & Technology

KIOST develops method for quickly identifying source of oil spills

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  • Date : 2021-03-15
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The Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (KIOST) (president: Kim Woong-seo) announced that Yim Un-hyuk, a principal research scientist, has developed a method for identifying the source of oil spills in the field (at sea) in only one hour. The causes of oil spills can be identified through a scientific method known as “oil fingerprinting.” Usually, oil collected from the sea is taken to a laboratory where preprocessing and precise analysis using expensive equipment are conducted, which takes a lot of time. Thanks to Yim’s research, however, a much faster analysis can be done without having to send samples to the lab.


An oil fingerprint is the unique physiochemical properties of a particular oil, similar to how human fingerprints are different from person to person. In the crude oil refining process, the different compositions of the organic matter and production processes involved produce oil with different characteristics, allowing the components of the oil to be identified through a precise analysis. Therefore, by collecting oil present at the site of a marine oil spill, which will inevitably contain trace amounts of oil released from vessels that passed near or through the accident site, the oil fingerprints of the different oils can be compared and analyzed to identify the ship that caused the oil spill.

Oil fingerprinting needs to be fast and accurate to ensure that the perpetrating ship is caught and meet the demand of fishermen for the prompt resumption of fishing. The KIOST researchers developed the on-site oil fingerprinting method by combining simple equipment with a big data analysis algorithm. The algorithm maximizes the capability of the on-site equipment by using chemometrics,* a big data analysis method. The research** was published in Science of the Total Environment, a prestigious international journal in environmental science (mrnIF***=92.05).
  * Chemometrics is the science of extracting information from chemical systems using statistical and mathematical models.
  ** Article title: High-throughput screening of oil fingerprint using FT-IR coupled with chemometrics
  *** mrnIF (modified rank-normalized impact factor): an index that rates the impact of an article in the given subject area based on the number of times the article is cited


Yim Un-hyuk said, “This new identification method allows rapid processing, enabling oil fingerprinting to be completed within one hour after arrival at an accident site, and it is highly reliable, with an accuracy rate 90% that of the laboratory method. In addition, as the algorithm developed through this research can be applied to equipment used in the field (at sea), it is expected to have numerous applications, including monitoring of harmful substances.


President Kim said, “This on-site oil fingerprinting method is expected to make a significant contribution to improving our capability to link marine oil spills to the people responsible for them. Going forward, KIOST will be dedicated to protecting the marine environment and safeguarding our ecosystems and habitats.”




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Last Update : 2021-07-19