This chapter examines hydrocarbons present in the environment and derived from natural and anthropogenic sources. Since the industrial revolution, the abundance of hydrocarbons derived from anthropogenic sources (petroleum hydrocarbons) has increased significantly in aquatic systems. Natural oil seeps and erosion of bitumen deposits can also contribute to hydrocarbon abundance and composition in systems. These petroleum hydrocarbons can be distinguished from biological hydrocarbons by their absence of odd-carbon chain lengths commonly found in biological hydrocarbons and the greater structural diversity found in petroleum hydrocarbons. The chapter focuses on naturally produced hydrocarbons. It provides examples of how aliphatic and isoprenoid hydrocarbons have been successfully used to distinguish between algal, bacterial, and terrigenous vascular plant sources of carbon in aquatic systems. It discusses how pristine and phytane are formed from phytol under oxic vs. anoxic conditions, respectively. It also introduces highly branched isoprenoids and their use as algal biomarkers.
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