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Oil Spill Detection & Modeling Report

Nunavut Planning Commission releases LOOKNorth Report on response capacity in the Hudson and Davis Straits.

(22 July 2014) … Vast, remote and sparsely populated, Canada’s North holds substantial and largely untapped oil and gas resources. Responsibly developed, with appropriate vigilance to protect pristine and fragile northern ecosystems, these resources can provide great economic opportunity and fiscal benefit for northern peoples.

LOOKNorth recently completed a study to assess the current state of oil spill monitoring and response capability in the Hudson Strait and Davis Strait areas, and to recommend improvements. Funded by the Nunavut General Monitoring Program, the study was commissioned by the Nunavut Planning Commission to gather information in response to concerns expressed during consultations on the Draft Nunavut Land Use Plan; it was released to the public in July 2014.

The study provides a snapshot of the state of the art in oil spill detection and impact prediction: LOOKNorth reviewed existing research on the use of remote sensing technologies for oil spill monitoring in Arctic waters, the modeling of oil fate and trajectories in the presence of sea ice, and experience to date in Arctic transportation operations.  It also includes an assessment of local capabilities in Nunavut (and gaps therein) to respond to oil spills, as well as recommendations to increase local capacity for effective oil spill response.  

RIGHT: Map showing the Hudson & Davis Straits. Click on image for larger version.

Although there is a significant body of knowledge describing the use of remote sensing technologies to detect and monitor oil spills in open water, little is known about the technology’s performance in sea ice.  Dedicated research is required to investigate its utility for Arctic marine environments.  Because a variety of physical parameters must be considered – not only temperature, but also harsh weather conditions; limited visibility (cloud cover, fog, rain snow, polar night; large area, and limited infrastructure (ports, airfields) - a suite of differing sensors will likely improve detection performance.  Therefore, the study recommends that operational monitoring of oil spills and relevant environmental parameters incorporate data from a variety of current and upcoming satellite missions.    

BELOW: Oil weathering process in temperate, open water; Click on image for larger version.

While decades of research have yielded models that satisfactorily forecast the fate and trajectories of oil spills in open water conditions, modeling of oil spills in ice-covered waters is comparatively little advanced.  The behaviour of oil in ice is complex, yet sea ice is not considered in most existing oil spill models. Additionally, for the Hudson and Davis straits, certain useful data sets are not currently available. To improve forecasting of oil fate and trajectory in sea ice, the report recommends that models should incorporate current and new generations of operational atmosphere-ocean-ice models, assimilate near real-time data and consider oil weathering processes in ice.

The report outlines opportunities to increase local response capabilities, including improved coordination between territorial and federal government agencies, and training of local staff and community members.  It also recommends capacity-building activities such as basic training in oil spill awareness, shoreline protection and data gathering, as well as formalized training in advanced remote sensing methods to extract oil spill and environmental (e.g. sea ice and wind) information from satellite imagery.  Finally, to facilitate effective shoreline cleanup in the event of a spill, the report recommends that the Hudson and Davis straits should be mapped to identify environmentally sensitive shoreline areas, using traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), as well as Environment Canada scientific criteria.

Oil Spill Detection and Modeling in the Hudson and Davis Straits  is available on the Nunavut Planning Commission website, here

Release of Oil Spill Detection and Modeling in the Hudson and Davis Straits  has been reported in Nunatsiaq Online, here.