Arctic marine environmental protection. Oil spill response: impacts and challenges

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

YT116, Linnanmaa

Topic of the dissertation

Arctic marine environmental protection. Oil spill response: impacts and challenges

Doctoral candidate

Master of Science (Technology) Victor Pavlov

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Technology, Water, Energy and Environmental Engineering

Subject of study

Environmental Engineering


Professor Per Johan Brandvik, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Norway)


Professor Eva Pongrácz, University of Oulu

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Arctic marine environmental protection. Oil spill response: impacts and challenges

Protection of the Arctic marine environment is a subject of increasing concern due to the industrial use of local resources and the opening of maritime shipping routes. Thus, there are emerging risks of marine pollution associated with these development trends. The lack of readily available response capabilities, long distances from populated areas, harsh climate with long periods of darkness, extreme cold, and frequent storms make spill response and clean-up operations difficult.
This doctoral dissertation examined the challenges related to oil spill response (OSR) in the Arctic, specifically focusing on the Barents Sea. The study aimed to address Arctic oil spill response technologies, the impact of Arctic weather on response efforts, and the potential ecological impacts caused by oil spill accidents.
There are currently three main oil spill response technologies available for the Arctic marine environment: mechanical recovery with skimmers and booms, chemical dispersion, and the combustion of oil at sea. However, the research revealed that the weather conditions in the Barents Sea present significant challenges for oil spill response efforts, and the ambient conditions restrict application of these technologies. Thus, the commonly used methods are limited to only the summer months. Unfavorable weather conditions during autumn, winter, and spring, such as extremely low temperatures, high winds and wave activity, ice cover, limited daylight, precipitation storms, and low visibility, make it difficult to conduct effective oil spill response operations at sea.
To assess the potential ecological impacts of oil spill accidents, this work suggests using spatial overlap analysis. This method involves comparing oil spill trajectory patterns with environmental sensitivity or species distribution data. The severity of impacts has a strong correlation with ecosystem seasonality and the sensitivity of the area. Summer was found to be a highly sensitive season for the Barents marine environment. Therefore, the prevention of accidents should be the highest priority during this period of high biological production and species abundance. At the same time, overall preparedness for oil spill accidents in this season is the most efficient. The chances to respond to an accident are the highest, especially as summer also shows a high probability of localized spill accidents. Vital ecosystem activities continue in autumn. Although Svalbard has non-breeding season at this time, if an accident happens close to the mainland, the potential impacts will be high. The operational capacity of the Arctic OSR toolbox at this time of the year has levels of partial applicability or complete inefficiency. Based on the studies and observations conducted on local oceanographic conditions, autumn is also a season when oil slicks can spread and travel the furthest distances from the initial spill location. This provides a just reason to concentrate closely on accident prevention. Measures may include risk reduction actions (e.g., traffic control, enhanced navigation management, reduction of shipping activities, route replanning to avoid sensitive areas) or the improvement of OSR preparedness.
Last updated: 23.1.2024