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No. 196: Environmental oil spill sensitivity atlas for the Northwest Greenland (75°-77° N) coastal zone

Clausen, D.S., Mosbech, A., Boertmann, D., Johansen, K.L., Nymand, J., Potter, S. & Myrup, M. 2016. Environmental oil spill sensitivity atlas for the Northwest Greenland (75°-77° N) coastal zone. Aarhus University, DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, 160 pp. Scientific Report from DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy No. 196. http://dce2.au.dk/pub/SR196.pdf


This atlas is produced as a part of the preparations for exploratory drilling offshore Greenland. The objective of the project is to give an overview of resources  vulnerable to oil spills, for example biological resources (fish, birds  etc.), which again will be implemented as a tool for oil spill response. The project covers the region between 75° N and 77° N in West Greenland, including the offshore waters to the Canadian border.

The following elements are included in the project 

  • coast types, 
  • oceanography, ice and climate,  
  • biological resources (fish, birds etc.), 
  • fishing and hunting, 
  • tourism, 
  • protected areas, 
  • archaeological sites, 
  • logistics and oil spill response methods.

As the oil spill sensitive resources are very different in character (e.g. seabird breeding colonies, important fishing areas and archaeological sites), it has been common practice to calculate an index value of the sensitivity of a specific area  in order to compare areas with different characteristics. The index calculations are based on a Canadian system, which has been used in Lancaster Sound. An overview of the methods used in the atlas is given in Chapter 5.

The coastline is divided into areas (coastlines and groups of islands) approx. 50 km long. Each area has been ranked in one of four degrees of sensitivity based on the index calculation that includes abundance and sensitivity of a number of environmental or community elements (e.g. different birds and marine mammals, hunting areas and archaeological sites). 

Besides the general classification of coastal sensitivity, the mapsheets of the atlas also show smaller selected areas. They have been selected as being of particular significance, particularly vulnerable to oil spills and as being of a size,  where an effective oil spill response can be performed. 

As a part of the project, classification of the coastline morphology has been  conducted from satellite photography, e.g. the occurrence of rocky shores and beaches, and geological and topographical maps. An index value of the selfcleaning ability of the coast after an oil spill has been calculated based on this  classification in combination with shoreline exposure to waves and ice. For example,   oil on a rocky coast exposed to wave action will be cleaned faster than oil on a beach in a protected lagoon.

Based on all the information, appropriate methods to respond to oil spills in the different areas have been assessed. 

Chapter 7 in the atlas contains offshore and overview information, primarily in  1:2.5 million scale maps, and Chapter 8 contains detailed coastal information in 1: 250,000 scale maps. Chapter 5 is a user’s guide common to Chapter 7 and 8. 

Chapter 7 contains maps showing the sensitivity of the offshore areas and with  indication of the elements used in the classification (fishing areas, fish, birds  and marine mammals). A number of maps show ice conditions and the most important biological resources and their use, e.g. deep sea shrimp and Greenland halibut.

Chapter 8 contains 15 maps in the scale 1: 250,000 showing index values for  coastal sensitivity and symbols for the elements of the classification (hunting and fishing areas, fish, birds, marine mammals and archaeological sites). The  maps also show the selected areas. Each map has a description of biological resources and human use of the area.

Chapter 8 also contains 15 maps showing coast types, logistics and proposed methods to oil spill response for each area.  

The Environment Agency for the Mineral Resources Activities of the Government   of Greenland (EAMRA) financed the preparation of the atlas. 

This atlas was prepared by DCE - Danish Centre for Environment and Energy/Aarhus University, The Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, The Greenland National Museum and Archives and Canadian SL Ross Environmental Research Ltd.