Lessons for Potential Oil Spill Response in the Arctic

Immediately following the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, scientific expertise was needed in the emergency response and impact assessment efforts. These efforts included the tracking of ship and personnel assets; tracking surface oil, tar balls, and an underwater oil plume in four dimensions; measuring rates of oxygen consumption by microbial decomposition of oil and methane; assessing the damage to coastlines, fish stocks, and fish larvae; and tracking the effects of the oil spill on seabirds, sea turtles, and marine mammals. The science community responded quickly, but with varying levels of preparedness.

A special session entitled "Lessons Learned from the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill" was held 19 January 2011 at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium (AMSS). Several scientists involved in the DWH response efforts shared insights from their experiences with the wide representation of the arctic marine science community in attendance. The goal of the session was to review the significant logistical, data management, and risk assessment challenges that developed during response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Discussion addressed how the experiences from DWH could inform preparations for potential oil spill response in remote arctic marine environments. Presentation topics included:

  • The current state of oil spill detection and tracking technologies;
  • Methods of modeling oil movement for accurate risk assessment;
  • The range of baseline data required to document biological effects; and
  • The information technology and communication infrastructure required to support effective use of OpenSource software and open protocols such as the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA).

Presentations and a talk on the DWH Investigating Committee report by DWH Commission member Fran Ulmer, and a link to the Commission report, are available online at http://tinyurl.com/bplessons.

For more information contact Philip McGillivary, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area & Icebreaker Science Liaison (Philip.A.McGillivary [at] uscg.mil).